Running is about so much more than physical exercise. If you run just to stay in shape or to lose weight, then you are really missing out!! To me, there is nothing like getting out on the road or trail and just going. It is freeing, primal, and ultimately beautiful. Running is “me time”. Yeah, it’s hard, inconvenient, dirty, can hurt and even be miserable at times but the truth is anything in life worth having takes work (Insert inspirational music). Running isn’t an exception. It is hard, but, man, do the benefits outweigh the work you put in…if you let it.
The next few blog posts are going to be about the ancillary benefits of running.
Today’s topic; Running Is Spiritual.
Quick disclaimer, I know that people have completely different beliefs (even in the same religion), so I don’t expect or want you to believe what I do. I am simply sharing my own thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. I am not trying to proselytize. I am simply offering up knowledge in hopes that it might help some.
Physiologically, running is perfect for meditation. The rhythm of the body creates a type of physical mantra. It’s like saying “om” but with your whole body. The repetition of movement gives the mind freedom of thought and helps deep reflection. You can also add to this by concentrating on your breathing. Deep long breaths through the nose, though difficult at first while running, can be very beneficial. I tend to run slowly and it makes breathing this way (when I think about it) easier. Not to mention just being outside is itself a spiritual experience. All of this makes running perfect for prayer and exercises in gratitude. If you run in the morning you will have an added benefit by getting the mind and soul in right order before you take on the day.
Below are three typical exercises that I do while running to build spiritual health.
Say Thank You
This exercise is pretty simple. While I am running I pay close attention to the world around me and start thanking God for everything I see. If you try this, get as detailed as you can! The more things you are thankful for the happier you will be. I usually start with trees, how thankful I am for their beauty, that they provide shade, fruit, nuts, clean air, homes for us and animals, etc. I then move on to the sky, sun, my legs, mind, ears, eyes, hands, heart, lungs, or wherever my mind takes me. I have even gotten as detailed as to the atoms in the air that create vibrations on my ear drum that are then interpreted by my mind as sounds/music. Big picture ideas all the way down to molecular science is perfect for this exercise. It is hard to complain about life after realizing how blessed we are.
Awhile back I was working DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) on a shoot and needed a book to read while the computer was doing it’s thing. While looking on my Kindle Paperwhite, the incredibly narcissistically titled book, “Choose Yourself” caught my interest. Something so vain had to be examined! In one of the chapters, author James Altucher talks about the depression of his friend, Kamal Ravikant. Kamal wrote a book about his fight with depression and how he overcame it by looking in the mirror and saying, “I love myself” everyday. The information and psychology shared in Kamal’s experience was interesting to me. Part of if seemed really great while part of it seemed super self-absorbed. I saw a few problems with this and one of the biggest was that I don’t think we can love ourselves without knowing how we fit into the universe, into the big picture. When you are completely depressed, love for yourself has to come from something outside of you, something that can give you worth. I don’t think that others can give this to us, because they are just as fickle and mortal as we are. That is why we must look to something greater than us for worth. For myself, I look to God. Others look to the cosmos, other religions, great spiritual minds, the earth, and the like. The point is, when something greater than us gives us worth/loves us it is easier to love ourselves. So, as I thought about loving myself, Matthew 22:34-40 came to mind. In the passage, Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”. He answers by saying that we are to love God and the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourself. So, basically, love God and love people. The interesting thing is that Jesus didn’t say, “don’t love yourself” or “love others more than yourself”. He said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Basically, if you don’t love yourself, how will you be able to love the people around you. If you hate yourself, you will hate others. In order to love others deeply, I need to love myself deeply, and to love myself deeply, I need to love God deeply.
So, I took Kamal’s approach and reworked it based off of Matt. 22. I start out by looking outside myself for worth/love. Aloud I start saying, “God, I love you.” I say this over and over again as a mantra. Once I start to understand/believe it, I start telling God why I love Him and why I’m thankful for Him. Once I feel full, I start saying, “I love myself” over and over again. I explain why I love myself and thank God for how He has made me. Then, I move to the next most important person in my life, my wife. Again, “I love my wife” over and over. I start to talk about and describe all of her amazing attributes. I make an extra effort to think about all of the things that make her beautiful. This has really been great for the way I view my wife and serve her. I then move on to our son, Erich, and do the same thing. I can’t tell you how important this is! Having a three year old is really difficult and it can be easy to only focus on all of the small annoyances and the many tantrums. Saying, “I Love my son, Erich.” and describing all of the wonderful things about him brings true perspective to parenting. This has really helped me keep my head during hard times. I then move on to our foster daughter and say the same things about her (she is super beautiful and sweet. I wish I could share photos. Too bad it’s against the law…). After my immediate family, I start doing the same thing with extended family, friends, random people on the trail, and humanity as a whole. I can’t tell you how much saying, “I love people” or “I love my neighbor” has changed my actions on those days. The most notable thing is my frustration/road rage is greatly reduced! It is hard to get mad at the person who cuts you off when you are actively practicing to love them as yourself. This exercise has quickly become one of my favorite things to do while running.
The Lord’s Prayer
The last spiritual practice I do while running is reciting the Lord’s Prayer line by line and expounding upon it. For example, “Our Father who art in Heaven.. God, You are my perfect Father. You love me, provide for me, take care of me, lead me, give me guidance, etc…. Your kingdom come… God, in Your kingdom there is no oppression, poverty, or injustice. Bring those things to earth as they are in heaven. Use me and my family to bring about these changes. etc.” I do this for each line of the prayer. This can take a long time because tons of things start to come to my mind as I pray. I get off track all the time. But that’s ok. The goal ins’t to get to the end, the goal is to pray and talk to God.
Are all of my runs super spiritual? No, not at all. Am I a super spiritual person? Haha, no. At least I don’t think I am. Definitely, don’t feel spiritual all the time. In any case, these have been good tools for me when I know I need to work on my soul’s health. Hope this has been helpful. Again this isn’t about being a Christian. I am just sharing what I do.
I would love to hear what you do for spiritual health on a run. I always love to learn what other people do, no mater the religion/belief system. We can all learn from each other. Also, was this too much personal info? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.