The Yoga of Running
This reflection is for anyone. Even if you don't run. In fact, you can replace the word "running" with any activity. I happen to run and have progressed through many stages of it... including... well... not running at all... for long periods of time. And why? Because it was "infected." The idea of running itself.
But how can an activity be infected? By our thoughts about it. Or the "lens" through which we perceive it. This is where Yoga and Running have coincided in this interchangeable meditation on the Yoga of (insert activity here). I've covered before at length how the idea of Yoga has itself been not only infected, but completely corrupted by a culture that uses the same dysfunctional technology of mind to "do yoga" that Yoga is intended to cure in the first place. Go figure!
I won't go into it at length here. But understand... that Yoga is not a physical exercise, but rather, an exercise of Presence... of Consciousness... of Awareness above all else! Therefore... the activity at hand can quite literally be anything... So to reiterate... runner or not, this reflection is for you! It is secondarily about running and therefore you runners will be able to relate to it even more.
The question is simple... "What is running?" And one might respond, "Why would you even ask that question?... the answer is obvious! But if you insist on an answer... it's well.. you know...it's kinda like walking...but ummm... ya know... faster... and uhhh... it's like an exercise thing... it's hard on your knees... hmm, let's see what else?... uhhhh."
Indeed the question is a simple one. The answer... perhaps not so straight forward. While there may be a definition in the dictionary for running (see below)... what is running really to you but the accumulation of ideas you have about running based on your direct experiences of running (or not) and the relationship you developed with the idea of running (pleasant or not)? Really think about that for a moment. If you take "running" (or any other activity) at face value with no awareness of the involvement of your thoughts (or "lens") in your perception then do you really know what running is? Are you really perceiving what running can be?
Say your friend says, "Hey! I'm going for a run this afternoon along the river, wanna join me?" What is your response. In those fleeting moments when you are forced to make a decision and answer your hopeful comrade... what runs through your mind? If you say "Aw gee, not today... I'm... getting a pedicure." was it because you imagined what it would be like and felt the resulting dread of having to feel how "out of shape" you might be while trying to keep up with your buddy?... did you suddenly get a flash back of grade school when you had to run the mile at gym class and you threw up your lunch on the 3rd lap? Did you hear the faint echoes of someone who told you that running wrecks your knees? Some combination?
Here's the truth... you have zero idea about what that experience of running is actually going to be even if you have the strongest conviction about it. So did you respond to the actuality of the invitation to run... or did you recoil from the projected imagery of a "lens" that is unaware of its own existence? This is a yogic question my friends. The ability to step back and perceive the perceiver is not some esoteric thing... but rather, the simple act of remembering to see your seeing. It's the next step in Human Evolution.
By "seeing" I'm really referring to the reality that shows up to you... that is real for you... and suggesting that it is a function of your lens. This is usually automatic for most people. That's what I mean when I say "we take things at face value." So in this case... you hear "running" you make automatic associations about what that means without even realizing it and assume that your perception is truth.
Why is this so important to understand? Because, if you are not aware that you have a choice in the act of perceiving, then essentially you are doing little more than running a predetermined program. You're predictable. And your life?... Unvaried and stagnant.
Let's run an alternative scenario based on the same question... "Hey! I'm going for a run this afternoon along the river, wanna join me?" You see your idea about running... you feel an instant of hesitation and the pressure to respond... you've practiced yoga so you remember to see that you are indeed running an automatic program that may or may not actually be the reality of the experience you are being invited into by life itself. You say... "Ya know... yeah! Sure! Why not? What time?" And you feel free. If even with a little trepidation.
I feel I have to keep saying this. This is not about running. This is about Yoga. Awareness. Remembering. What I'm asking you to see is that our mind's "OS" (if you want to call it that) is predictable. It runs a program that in philosophy is simply referred to as "predication." Joining subjects and predicates to make sense. We do it all the time. Seems harmless enough. But it is deceivingly pernicious... And it is the DNA of the everyday human being's thought process. It's how we make sentences. But not only that... it is how we perceive reality altogether.
Without an awareness of this, we take what appears to us, which is a function of our "lens," at face value and thereby unconsciously obstruct the direct experience of Reality (which cannot be predicated) by the distortion of our mind's OS (operating system). So back to running. What is it? If we can talk all day about running (predicate about it) but yet we know that this technology of talking about Reality is not doing justice to Reality itself... we have to ask then, what is Real Running? This is where it gets good!
Let me give you an example of how this applies to my experience with running. I went through a relatively long period where I thought of running as an unpleasant experience to put yourself through. After teaching yoga for a couple of years I started to understand the art of witnessing my own narrating of my experiences and how that effected my experience. For example, being in a yoga posture and realizing that I did not need to force myself into flexibility (as I had automatically assumed was the name of the game) suddenly made the posture far more pleasant and spacious feeling. I changed the narration (the lens) and my physical reality shifted. hmmmm.
I translated this over to my running experience and realized that what was plaguing me while running was not the running itself but the inner talk regarding running... Not just thinking about running. But when I was actually running I started to observe "programs" that were running (no pun intended) in my mind that were changing the way I was relating to the activity... in real time! For example I would feel pressure to run farther faster. This was probably instilled during my "get to the finish line first or you are a worthless piece of shit" days... ya know, male egos... high school... you get the idea.
Allowing myself to see that narration going on in my head gave me the freedom to not have to push myself so hard when I was running. In one afternoon's run I went from dreading running but doing it anyway... to actually looking forward to my next run as my body did not go into fight or flight at the mere mention of running. One time... Huge change! This is the power of real Yoga. So I decided to play with this. I realized that when I felt there was a goal to reach in a certain amount of time while I was running (and that this was generated by automatically agreeing that the value one derives from running is in being better than someone else), the quality of every stride was laden with a sense of struggle, striving, and an overall feeling of running out of energy. It was inauthentic running.
When I took off the pressure of trying to run a certain distance or to beat a certain time, I noticed the quality of my strides felt smoother, like there was less friction and impact... The nature of the running itself shifted from a "means to an end " kind of running to feeling like the running itself was its own reward. I hope you receive the impact of this! Without seeing my inner talk about the activity I was like a slave to an artificial version of running. I wasn't present. My whole mental structure was blocking me from being present. But as I could let go of the "getting there" program, I was allowed to be Here... which is where running blossomed for me. That's why I say that Yoga is the art/science of Presence. Presence is Awareness... Being... Reality.
I agreed to let myself stop running and just walk if I started to cramp or feel overly uncomfortable in my body. I would never do that before because I agreed that that was called "being weak." But once I spotted that, I could see that it was just bad logic and therefore do away with it by giving myself permission to stop and stroll at any time... in honor of my highly intelligent body. And here's the real kicker... I didn't necessarily go slower when I gave up on getting there faster. In fact at times I would feel like the wind was in my sales and I wasn't working to run at all, yet still flying and going faster than when I was trying to. I even played with imagining that the Earth could feel my feet hitting the ground which made me hyper-conscious of the quality of every step. In other words, running started opening up for me like I never had thought possible. In my yoga experiment, the empirical evidence I gathered through the direct experience of these shifts I describe, I began to see the power of bringing yogic awareness into my activities to, in essence, liberate them from their "dormant" and even stagnant confines generated by my previously automatic perceptions thereby changing the physical Reality of the activity. In this case, my running went from feeling like work, heavy, hard on my body, and just plain something I had to get through to feeling like a pleasure, nourishing, fun, energizing, easier on my body, something I look forward to... I could go on and on. But I hope you get the point here. That experience of running was waiting to be experienced but I literally could not access it without stepping back and perceiving my perceiving itself.
Recognizing the false overlay of inauthentic predication like "If I slow down, I'm giving up" and the like, allowed me to no longer act on them due to seeing their inherently bogus logic! Once this happens, I can begin experiencing Running like an artist experiences a blank canvas. And that's Real Running. That's the Yoga of Running.