The spiritual side of exercise

Is technique important in running?

Is the mental side of things important?

Are the mental and physical parts of ourselves interlinked?

Most people would answer yes to all these questions, but few have explored the combination of the two, or indeed the link between exercise and the spiritual side of their life.

From long distance pilgrims, to marathon running monks, the spiritual and physical are not separate in any sense. Focussing the breath and focussing the mind are some examples of how exercise and spiritual practises can be linked together by those seeking to explore these links.

Breathing has long been associated with the spiritual by different religions. In yoga, Pranayama is control of Breath”. “Prana” is Breath or vital energy in the body. Prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and “ayama” means control. So Pranayama is “Control of Breath”. One can control the rhythms of pranic energy with pranayama and achieve healthy body and mind. In western religion, the Hebrew word ruach generally means wind, breath, mind, spirit. When applied to God, this word refers to the active power of God.

Learning to control breath is for many runners something that holds them back, and can also be a turning point in the improvement in their running. It can also be a powerful way to focus the mind, and unite the mind and body.

Mindfulness is focussing in a non judgemental way on the present moment. It involves letting the last go, and not worrying about the future. Being focussed on the present situation can, is arguably an essential skills for sports people. But what if, using a mindfulness based approach we could learn to sense deeply what is going on in our body and then make the necessary changes to improve our technique performance? Chi Running and Walking (pronounced chee as in Tai Chi) encourage the participants to see their exercise as a mindful practice and not just a set of physical techniques. Chi Running and Walking (both books written by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer) were developed from Tai Chi, and encourage the participant to develop a deep sense of relaxation and alignment in their movement. The result? Movement becomes a lot more energy efficient, and for many people the impact and therefore risk of injury is reduced.

Chi Running and Walking are best practiced all day, every day, mindfully. In fact for many participants they become like a physical meditation. Several books have been written on the subject of walking and running meditation, and there is a long spiritual tradition in both pathways.

Here is an short exercise for you to try. It’s written as a 5 minute exercise, but of course you would benefit more if you had more time. The Chi walking book has a wide range of similar exercises.

Step 1 walk for 30 seconds to a minute at a very slow pace. Feel you feet under you and count your breaths – both in breaths and out breaths. Be aware of them and nothing more. If your attention wanders, notice that has happened and then return your mind to your breath.

Step 2 gradually bring your attention to your feet. Continue to be aware of your breath if possible. Remember the balance points we discussed a short while back. Walk gently and with softness. Notice the way your feet are landing, where is there more pressure? On the outside or inside of your foot? At the front or the back? Do you feel tension in your ankles? Notice these points without judgment, simply observe them and take note.

Step 3 bring your attention to only your breath for a final 1 minute period.

Would you like to explore this further? Try …

Mindful Fitness Day, 7th March – a day of Chi Running or walking, yoga and mindfulness.A week in the French Alps, 1st – 8th August 2015 – a week of Chi Running, Chi Walking, Yoga and MindfulnessMore details on www.freedomtorun.co.uk

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