This book changed the way I run and the way I think about training. Sakyong Mipham is a Tibetan lama and leader of the Shambhala Buddhist community. He is a master of meditation and mindfulness; and a pretty fit runner as well! He has a unique ability to relate lessons learned in his mastery of meditation to running. By practicing mindfulness meditation and mindfulness, you strengthen and stabilize your mind, which translates to faster, healthier, and happier running (and living). Mindfulness is simple, and the best part of his approach? It only costs a little bit of your time and focused attention each day.
Mipham calls our breath the life force energy. By connecting with our breath we become more aware of the present moment, more present in reality. He also introduces a foundational concept in Tibetan Buddhism, the windhorse. The windhorse is an allegory for the mind’s control over the act of breathing. Of course, we have all been breathing since the day we were born, but there are some important benefits we can reap by paying attention to how we breathe and what we do with the thoughts and emotions that enter and exit our mind. In the windhorse allegory, the horse represents our breath (wind). Sitting on the horse’s back is a jewel, the rider, which represents our mind. In meditation practice, the discursiveness that we experience, especially as a beginner, is like an untamed horse, running wild and out of control. As we learn to pay attention to our breathing, and observe our thoughts, we begin to tame the horse. Mipham describes nine stages in meditation that practitioners go through: placement, continuous placement, repeated placement, close placement, taming, pacifying, thoroughly pacified, one pointed, and equanimity (p39).
Athletes spend lots of time training their bodies, but training for the mind is not given as much attention. Meditation can benefit athletes by helping them to remain undistracted and focused during a competition. Mindful athletes are better prepared to deal with negative thoughts that enter their mind allowing steady focus and attention to the task at hand in the present moment. It is natural for all kinds of thoughts to arise, it is what you do next that matters most. When you attach to your thoughts, or react habitually, without considering the conditions that gave rise to it and the consequences of your actions, you are imprisoned mentally,without the freedom to choose the best action.
Mipham spends the entire second half of the book discussing the four phases of training (with the mind of meditation). In the Shambhala tradition of warriorship, there are four dignities through which to evolve: the tiger, the lion, the garuda, and the dragon. In each of these phases there are lessons for meditation that he has directly related to running. The phases are progressive, yet all-inclusive. While two different activities, they share many similarities and can even be enjoyed simultaneously with some effort and discipline.
The Tiger: principle of mindfulness – leads to contentment
- Work on technique, build a base, learn how to focus, develop gentleness.
- Accept and appreciate who you are.
- Embodies confidence; moves with grace and power.
The Lion: joy, power of virtue, compassion, and kindness.
- Perky, enjoying higher fitness and the joy of running.
The Garuda: inconceivable power of the mind.
- Outrageous, yet controlled (big goals).
- Competent and accomplished; can challenge yourself.
The Dragon: wisdom, intelligence, foresight, and omniscience.
- Running to benefit others (charity etc)