This is a blog site of my book reviews. I like to give detailed reviews so that those who are too busy to read can get the finer points of the books. Making these reviews also helps me to keep the conceptual info handy and to work with it more intently. Typical subjects are Yoga, Tantra, Magick, Dharma, Meditation, Shamanism, Mythology, Folklore, Ancient History and Religions, Holistic Health, Environmental Topics, Paleo-astronomy, Mysteries, Cutting Edge Science, and Transformative Philosophy
Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind
Book Review: Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for
Training Body and Mind by Sakyong Mipham(Kindle Edition 2012)
This is a great book for runners, meditators, and especially
for those who do both. Sakyong Mipham is a Tibetan-American lama steeped in two
cultures. He has also been trained in the Shambhala tradition that venerates
the path of the warrior and recommends athletic development, thus his training
in martial arts, archery, dance, and horsemanship.
He took up running much later but has come to be a
long-distance runner and has run quite a few marathons. He has also practiced
meditation his whole life from a young age. He sees meditation as the chief
means of training the mind and running as a method of training the body so the
book serves as an analysis of the integration of mind and body training
methods. He advises: “Meditate with delight and run with joy.” He appears to be
a very disciplined fellow.
Sakyong Mipham relates many personal experiences and tales
like running before dawn in India where one must be present to possible
encounters with elephants, cobras and leopards, running in the high elevation
of Tibet, in the wilds of Scotland, and in various parts of the US and Canada.
He sees running and meditation as mutually supportive.
“When we run, we strengthen our heart, remove stagnant air,
revitalize our nervous system, and increase our aerobic capacity.”
Running and meditation both support health, strength, and
flexibility of mind and body. The stresses of modern society, such as sedentary
time due to travel, work, and electronic pursuits and other stresses such as
pollution point to a need for physical and mental strength, flexibility, and
He talks about his early running experiences beginning
around 2003 with his trainer Misty Cech. As for everyone else it was a struggle
in the beginning and one needs to “build a base” which is simply running enough
without overdoing it in order to strengthen muscles, tendons, and bone
integrity so that the body becomes used to it. My own first few runs are
memorable for calf pain and quick loss of breath. I was amazed that people
could run as far as they could (I still am) but improvement and relaxation did
come. Building a base takes about two years, say doctors, and my own experience
confirms this as well. He compares this to meditation – defined as “the act of
familiarizing your mind with what you want it to do.” “The bones and tendons of
the mind are mindfulness and awareness. Mindfulness is the mind’s strength, and
awareness is its flexibility.” In one aspect, meditation is simply training the
mind as running is one means to train the body. So, he says, ‘building the
base’ has to occur with meditation as well – in order to get the mind in shape.
He says that when learning meditation it is good to have coaching especially in
regards to posture, attitude, obstacles, and antidotes. He says that movement
is good for the body and stillness is good for the mind. He thinks that a
balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems can be attained
through this movement and stillness, thus relieving stress.
The importance of breathing to both meditation and running
is emphasized. Connecting to the breath is perhaps the best way to be present.
Breath can be a problem when one begins running but this usually improves as
one learns to relax and breathe deeper. He gives instructions for meditation
using the breath as focus and other useful advice.
The relationship between breath and mind is important.
Tibetans say the breath is like a horse and the mind is like a rider. The
horse, or breath, must first be tamed, but ultimately it is the rider, or mind,
that is tamed. Mongolians and Tibetans depict this relationship of breath and
mind in the idea of windhorse (lungta).
In the depictions, above the saddle is a jewel. The jewel is the mind, and more
specifically the enlightened mind.
The author suggests that running does not tame the horse
(breath) but exhausts it into a more settled state. He says the peace from
meditation is more cumulative, while that from running is incidental. Even so,
the two activities are usually complementary.
He discusses the difficulty of beginning to run and making
it a habit, the possibility of overdoing it and losing interest. Gradualness is
the key. He suggests interspersing periods of walking and running for
beginners. He notes (as I confirm) that the early part of a run is often the
most difficult. This likely has much to do with the body adjusting from a
relaxed to an active mode. In contrast, with meditation one is typically
slowing down the thinking mind.
Sakyong Mipham emphasizes the importance of motivation in
both running and meditation. He talks about types of motivation – from without
and from within, - and levels of motivation. Pacing and setting reasonable
goals can be important to running. He sees a balance between challenging
oneself and not overdoing it as important for runners. He also talks about
short-term and long-term motivation. These should be balanced as well so that
even if one’s short-term motivation weakens one can still think in terms of
long-term motivation. Meditation can be a means to watch how such motivations
can change in very short time periods.
He tells of his first marathon run in Toronto. Apparently, he bought new socks and
this was not such a good idea. He finished the race but acquired a large and
painful blister through most of the race. At 12 miles he decided to pop the
blister by stamping hard on it. He describes his meditation on pain and finally
finishing and getting his bloody foot fixed up.
Next he goes into the Shambhala warriorship tradition which is
a method of training in courage without aggression. Training is given in four
phases, called the ‘four dignities’ – tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon. The
result is a strong windhorse.
“The Shambhala teachings present goodness as our base and
splendidness as our natural state of being. These qualities are neither
spiritual nor worldly but inherent – there to be uncovered.”
The tiger phase refers to cultivating mindfulness which
leads to contentment. This is the phase of developing technique. Next is the
lion which represents the joy of having developed the technique and discipline.
Next is the garuda where newly-found skills and abilities appear and new
challenges are taken on. Finally, there is the dragon which represents mastery
and the ability to see beyond personal goals to benefitting others.
Detailing the tiger phase he notes that gentleness is the
key to mindfulness. Building a base and developing and perfecting technique are
the work. He notes that there are several different running techniques but that
he prefers feeling connectivity from the navel up through his central core
leading to mouth and nostrils. This is a focus in meditation as well. Running
from the center is also recommending in “Chi Running” which is the technique
that I have come to prefer. He gives his own technique and warns against
slumping forward too much. He also recommends (as do other runners) landing in
the center of the foot. He mentions the technique of counting breaths, as in
meditation. I have never done this but I routinely do mantras in rhythm with
the breath while running.
He discusses the effects of feelings/emotions/sensations on
both meditation and particularly on running. He notes that much of the
components of our feelings are mental and often mental discomfort is mistaken
for physical discomfort. Mindfulness of how one feels is important. Dealing
effectively with injuries takes mindfulness throughout as one needs to
regularly assess one’s condition, healing, and readiness. Indeed, sensible pain
and injury management is important to any exercise routine and it gets more
important as one ages. He uses the term “embodiment’ to describe a
synchronization of body and mind that he also equates with the egolessness of
He discusses the benefits and pitfalls of treadmills and how
they have helped him since he travels a lot. He discusses music while working
out as a distraction yet it seems to work for lots of people. I actually like
to read on an elliptical or a fast walk on a treadmill. He criticizes our
half-hearted multi-tasking and recommends being fully engaged in our
activities. As for me, I don’t mind multi-tasking.
Success in meditation or exercise can be simply that the action
is sustained and practiced regularly. He mentions that the sluggishness we
often feel at the beginning of exercise is not only due to the stagnation of
muscles but also to the stagnation of organs – as in Chinese medicine. Exercising
speeds metabolism and processing of toxins. Meditation may help us process our
mental baggage and societal imagery.
He contrasts an attitude of gentleness with one of
aggression and concludes that gentleness leads to a more optimal edge to both
body and mind. Gentleness implies more flexibility, understanding, and care
than aggression. Stress and worry are mental factors that can affect us
physically as well. Meditation, in this sense, can be a means to train
ourselves to hold less worry and stress.
He mentions yoga and walking as complementary to running.
This is rather obvious as stretching and light exercise can keep one tuned up
for more strenuous exercise.
He emphasizes the importance of optimism and confidence in
both meditation and running. In meditation one is optimistic about the power of
the mind. In running one is optimistic about the power of the body. He notes
the importance of staying in touch with one’s confidence.
“With confidence, our activity becomes a path.”
As a tiger phase practice, he gives a technique of
contemplation meditation where one investigates one’s motivation(s) for
The lion phase is characterized by enjoying the results of
one’s hard work and training. Effort gives way to ease. This phase involves
“panoramic awareness” where we focus on our surroundings having thoroughly
trained in technique. Releasing struggle allows us to tune into the world
In the Shambhala tradition and in Tibetan Buddhism in
general, the natural state of our mind is said to be one of “basic goodness.”
He posits a similar natural condition of the body as “basic healthiness.”“… the mind is raw material. It is like tofu
– neutral and pliable.”
Dealing with pain can be a part of running. A big part of
life is pain therefore we should learn how to relate to it as best we can.
“When we are able to work with pain and understand it, life
becomes twice as interesting. Relating to pain makes us fearless and happy.”
Pain should be acknowledged and accepted for what it is
instead of overly focusing on it and reacting overly negatively to it.
“… happiness is the natural screen saver of the mind.” He
says that “happiness is not a goal, but a by-product of mentally and physically
He associates egolessness with happiness and lightness, and
ego with heaviness and restriction. He discusses pride as a part of the lion
phase and notes the five kinds of pride given in the Buddhist tradition: pride
from position (family), pride from wealth, intellectual pride (knowledge),
pride of youth/beauty/prowess, and pride from thinking you do not have pride.
The antidote to pride is humbleness and good humor is also helpful in trimming
pride. Healthy pride is simply confidence. A lion phase contemplation is given
which focuses on feeling fortunate, grateful, and content. He demonstrates the
value of this cultivation for everyone – including the poor, sick, and dying.
Simply being content and grateful for the present moment can be a very powerful outlook.
The garuda phase is called ‘outrageous’ since this is when
one challenges oneself beyond one’s comfort zone. A garuda run may involve new
location or fresh stimuli. It may involve surpassing previous limitations. In
meditation this may be an all day meditation or a long retreat. Strangely,
after reading about this ‘garuda run’ I actually did one. I went out for a run
and planned to go so far but I felt good near the end so I extended it and
ended up going twice as far as I had planned and significantly farther than I
had ever run before. I kept thinking about the garuda. The power of
expectation? Perhaps. He says this garuda phase can help one break out of a
rut. He describes his own creation of a 32-mile ultra-marathon in the high
elevations of northern Colorado
with 1000 ft differences in elevation. To me, that seems pretty outrageous.
The wings of the garuda represent focused mindfulness and
panoramic awareness. The garuda symbolizes balance and freedom from hope and
fear. Hope arises from not encountering what we want. Fear arises from
encountering what we don’t want. Pain and pleasure can lead to avoidance and
obsession. How we handle them is very important. Due to our habits in handling
pain and pleasure we often switch from hope to fear and back. This cycle of
hope and fear can undermine our lives, thus it is important to free ourselves
from it when we can. Fear is based on attachment. Scholars are often attached
to their knowledge while athletes are often attached to their bodily fitness.
We all have hope and fear. The goal is to minimize its influence. Garuda is
also associated with freshness and spontaneity. My own garuda run exhibited
spontaneity. I did have another garuda run, or rather outrageous run of sorts
but this one not so successful. I went out to run on cool day after not much
sleep and the wind blowing against me got the better of me so I went far less
than my minimum level and just gave it up. Felt bad for a short time then just
got over it, no big deal. Sometimes the equanimity is just not there and the
conditions get the better of you. Running in the heat is a problem for me as
well. Maybe if I took water.
As another possible garuda phase method he mentions trail
running. He says it is great for core training as there are more obstacles to
overcome and flexibility to develop. I have not done this yet so maybe
something to look forward to. Better scenery might also be a benefit of trail
running. He relates experiences of running up and down big hills and running in
extreme weather. He also relates a run where he and another runner experienced
meditational clarity while running in the wilds of Scotland. He thinks that mind and
body were in balance that day so their internal beauty allowed them to
experience external beauty.
Meditation in the garuda phase emphasizes mindfulness itself
as the object of meditation. Having discovered the qualities of a state of
mindfulness during previous meditation training, one focuses on getting into
that mode and holding to that state. The idea is to not be threatened or
seduced by external distractions. Interestingly, he discusses boredom as being
influenced by self-worth and pride. He says that in meditation or exercise we
do not consider our activity worthy of our attention. The boredom related to
pride can be when we become impatient and annoyed about having to wait for
something. He says that cultivating attitudes of appreciation and self-worth
are more important than ambition. Ambition and goals disappear in the garuda
phase. He notes that one can take the outrageousness too far and that it should
be grounded in one’s previous training. He gives a contemplation of love and
kindness for the garuda phase. Letting go of self-centeredness is a key to
happiness for oneself and focusing on kindness and the happiness of others is a
key to letting go of self-centeredness.
The dragon represents deep purpose, our secret or innermost
level, says Sakyong Mipham. He says dragon also symbolizes inexpressible power,
brilliance, and the profundity of mind.
“The dragon embodies all the lessons of the tiger, lion, and
garuda – mindful, perky, and in balance. Thus the dragon arises as coincidence
In the Shambhala tradition the dragon represents the
recognition of nonconceptual wisdom, referred to as the joining of heaven and earth.
In this phase, he sees runs and meditations as focusing on what is most
important, most beneficial – compassion, caring for others, and thinking beyond
ourselves. He talks about the ‘dragon’s breath’ as being a special way to
relate to breath, air, or wind. The yogic winds, or pranas are invoked here.
“The power of the dragon is intention. The dragon knows that
with full, unbridled attention we can bring goodness and benefit into any
He mentions two approaches to breathing meditation – the
gentle and the coarse. The gentle is appropriate to sitting meditation while
coarse breathing is the method of vigorous exercise and requires control. He
recounts an experience of running in the high altitude of Tibet where he
was winded quickly and came to understand and appreciate the limitations of
given for the dragon phase is about compassion and selflessness. The goal is
egolessness and bringing the intention to the best of intentions, that of
benefiting others. Another goal of this contemplation is to discover that the
self is an illusion.
The next section is about windhorse, representative of the
state of egolessness. He talks about having conversations while running and how
they can be revealing and without preconceptions. I have only had a few
conversations while running and they seemed like regular ones to me so I am not
sure I followed that part. He contrasts the bluntness of Western conversational
style with the art of conversation among Tibetans. He talks about a run for
peace he organized that ended at the Great Dharmakaya Stupa of Colorado. He talks about
running for fund-raisers and charities as well. He talks about runners having
an ethos of optimism and exertion and perhaps a connection to the life force
energy that is windhorse.
“The windhorse phase is realizing we are all gifted; we all
have something to offer.”
The windhorse contemplation is on basic goodness. He sort of
refers to windhorse as the energy of basic goodness. It is “basic” because it
is fundamentally who we area and “good” “in that we are complete, intact, and
Sakyong Mipham finishes out the book with some recounts of
his marathon runs and with a poem called “Freedom” which elegantly expresses
for him the bliss of running.
Overall, this is a great book with useful insights. There
are better books on running techniques such as “Chi Running” but this one is
unique in that it also encompasses meditation.