Sakyong Mipham: Meditative Running
Sakyong Mipham is known for his meditative practices that combine mental and physical concentration. His popular book Running with the Mind of Meditation explores the contemplative nature running can provide. Since the release of the book many followers now participate in retreats based on The Sakyong’s routines laid out in the book. Regardless of popularity, many may wonder what lead a Buddhist leader to become an enthusiastic participant of a non-traditional religious activity.
The Starting Line
Sakyong began running in Boulder, Colorado. Having been raised in martial arts, archery, weights, and horsemanship he picked up the activity with ease and found it to be extremely enjoyable. He picked up the exercise habitually and after returning from Tibet with a promise to raise money for schools, The Sakyong’s extracurricular became something more. Sakyong entered his first marathon to raise money for the Tibetan people and has run over nine since. Several funds now exist for the building of schools (many have already been built and are active) thanks to the initiative of a runner.
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Running and Buddhism
Running is a common exercise cross-culturally. While the origins of the activity vary across the world, it is recognized in modern day as a popular physical exercise. Doctors indicate the general health benefits of improved immune systems, strengthened bones, improvement of mental health, and general fitness. Though for some it is more than a simple activity. Running is a common escape from day to day stress, a chance to leave reality for an hour of peace and reflection. Similarly, meditation is a means of freeing the mind from its everyday tension.
People tend to flock to Shambhala Buddhism for its principles of kindness, innate goodness, and creating a healthy human society. Many practitioners are caught up in everyday life contrasting the image of traditional Buddhist’s in robes. Shambhala promotes ongoing meditative practices that engage the mind in relaxing and releasing daily anxieties allowing one to cultivate the right mind. To the Sakyong this is a similar draw to running as he finds no difference in the positive benefits of both, in fact he combines the two.
Mind and Body
Running is, in fact, incredibly meditative with proper direction. Traditional meditation practices focus on breathing and releasing one’s tensions wile opening their mind to what is happening around them in the moment. Often beginner’s remark on the rush of thoughts they get as soon as sitting on a cushion. However, it is recognizing these thoughts as constant and being able to release them upon recognition, this cultivation of mindfulness that makes meditation such a profound help to mental health. Recognizing the essence of living and thinking as not bad is freeing and opens ones enjoyment of life, though one should be working on both the mental and physical development.
The Tibetan word lungta means life-force energy and references the importance of mind and body sincerity. The United States is home to the obesity epidemic, long work hours, aggression, and self-help books. A land of mental illness and unhappiness, it seems clear that the U.S. is at a shortage of lungta. Recognizing this divide, The Sakyong wanted to find a way to draw the masses into culturally sensitive meditative practices. Sitting meditation is not everyone’s cup of tea whereas running is something enjoyed and practiced the same on every continent. In his book and lectures, Sakyong discusses the similar technique of concentrating on breathing while running. One can reach a calming mindset that allows reflection similar to that of traditional mediation while exercising the mind and body in unison. Running and meditation, two revolutionary acts, that when combined, offer a unique blend of Eastern and Western practice.
What Does He Wear?
While wardrobe is not a Buddhist teacher’s main priority, it does pose an interesting question. Sakyong is commonly seen in traditional robes, conveying the simple beauty of his lineage and culture. Though, running one cannot expect robes to be efficient. The Sakyong instead runs in typical Western running gear, though he is precise about who is making it. There are luckily several environmentally friendly companies that produce running gear that abides by The Sakyong’s morals and meet his goals as a running enthusiast.
Not a Race
The Sakyong began running with an idea and it blossomed into a wonderful way of spreading the dharma and healthy living. Similar to The Sakyong himself, running meditation is not a traditional activity, but beautifully incorporates East and West. Sakyong himself continues to run habitually, making 45-60 miles a week no matter where he is, as it is something he can do in Asia, America, or Tibet.
- Kate Mattes
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