Are Running and Yoga Really Giving You the Benefits of Meditation?

2018-09-11T14:30:28+00:00June 27th, 2018|Meditation, Mindfulness|

I read a blog post recently that stressed we broaden our perspective about meditation. It suggested that if you don’t want to sit in silence to meditate, not to worry. There are many other activities that you can do to meditate. Activities like running, bubble baths, walking, yoga, painting, cycling, listening to music and pretty much any other activity that you could think of were on the list.

I’d like to share my experience and reflections about this. I believe it’s important because I don’t want people who are engaging in these activities assuming they are getting the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. They need to have a deeper understanding of what is considered a meditation and mindfulness practice.

Are running, walking, yoga and other repetitive activities considered meditation?

The short answer is, it depends.

I have been a runner for many years. For most of those years, I would put on my running shoes, grab my iPhone, pop in my earbuds and then head out. I would only leave the earbuds at home if I had a friend to run with me. Then for the majority of my run, I would focus on what I was listening to or chat with my friend. Music or my friend served to distract me from the boredom and discomfort of the run. The only time I would notice my breath was when I was gasping for air on a hill. When I ran I needed my mind to be distracted in order to not feel the discomfort.

Engaging in an activity where you create the conditions for your mind to tune out rather than tune in is not considered meditation or mindfulness.

That also goes for yoga. When I ask my new clients about their meditation experience, I often hear “a little bit through yoga.” The majority of these people tell me that they have no idea what to do with their mind whether it’s during yoga, running, walking, or folding the laundry.

The key to whether the activity we are engaging in helps us build our mindfulness muscle is not what we do but how we do it.

It’s truly not about the running or the activity at all; it’s about the awareness that we bring (or don’t bring) to what we’re doing. For example, when we make the conscious choice to engage in an activity and then be fully present with our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surroundings we are practicing mindfulness.

Bringing mindfulness to activities also involves the relationship we have with our thoughts and feelings. When we’re mindful, we’re not trying to distract ourselves from the discomfort or negative thoughts about how challenging something is; instead, we bring awareness and curiosity to our experiences in a kind and compassionate way.

Mindfulness enables us to build our capacity to be with experiences and sensations that we might naturally tend to distract, suppress or try to numb.

I also want to point out that there is no debate about the physical benefits of running, yoga, music, bubble baths, etc. There is ample research to support this. However, engaging in these activities in and of themselves doesn’t necessarily equate to being more mindful or enhancing our ability to concentrate or deal with our feelings.

I’ve heard so many runners say that they end up injuring themselves because the only way they could feel calm inside was by pushing themselves to total exhaustion. The key point here is that the majority of people don’t know how to calm themselves from the inside out. We don’t know how the deal with our feelings, discomfort, or repetitive habitual thoughts.

What do we do instead?

We make a conscious choice and are intentional about how we engage in an activity. Of course, we can still tune in to music and listen to podcasts when we’re running or walking. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we’re meditating.

Meditating and practicing mindfulness in our everyday life shifts how we do everything. It changes how we react in traffic when we’re cut off. And we may respond differently to our child’s temper tantrum in the grocery store. As I talked about in a previous post, meditation isn’t about meditation, it’s about being different not doing differently.

In summary, we are practicing mindfulness when we bring a certain type of awareness to an activity. The challenge for most of us is that we need to first learn how to do that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Do you agree that it’s not about what we do; rather it’s about how we do it? Leave a comment below.

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6 Comments

  1. Jeanettea June 28, 2018 at 10:24 am - Reply

    Hi Bev,
    So great to hear from you. Often I was of the believe that yoga was my meditation and running played a part but after reading the blog, I’m not so sure.
    I think if I’m trying to distract my thoughts while engaged in a strenuous activity; perhaps I need to rethink what it means to be mindful.

    • Bev Janisch June 28, 2018 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much for the reflection!! I’m glad that this post gave you an opportunity to pause and reflect about what it means to be mindful. Great to hear from you!!!

  2. Carleen Ellis June 28, 2018 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Thanks Bev, I couldn’t agree more that the how, is much more important than the why and that meditation is about being different not doing different.
    B.K.S. Iynegar said that the aim of yoga is to be in a meditation in every pose. What he meant was that when equanimity or the Satvic centered internal space is held despite the physical, sensational and experiential challenges of the asana we are “there.” The practice on the mat is called a practice because it is a metaphor for life. When we meditate on the mat, it too is practice for our busy, challenged, hectic lives off the mat.
    B.K.S. Iyengar was also a traditional Indian Yogi with a lifetime of meditation hours and yogic training. Unfortunately our modern approach to yoga is often a far cry from his teachings and dedication. In other words, if a runner is able to stay completely present with every breath, step and movement for the entire run (without thinking of their route, curbs, roots, the weather, dogs, traffic, etc) then yes, they are practicing a form of meditation and mindfulness, just as the yogi who does the same would be doing. However, aside from the difficulty of this advanced practice of complete dedicated awareness during movement, I question the safety of it. It’s one thing to be comfortably seated on a meditation cushion while absorbed in the intricacies and depth of the breath and quite another to be running down the street.

    • Bev Janisch June 28, 2018 at 1:49 pm - Reply

      Hi Carleen! I’m so glad you weighed in on this as you have incredible expertise in both yoga and meditation. I really appreciate your perspective about this and love how you deepened the conversation. Such an important point you make about the “practice on the mat is called a practice because it is a metaphor for life.” Very wise!!!! Thank you!

  3. Erica June 28, 2018 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Thanks Bev, your article is making me re-think my thought processes during yoga and my daily walks. I supposed the ultimate goal we are trying to achieve is finding happiness in just being, enjoying the current moment. I know I need to attend one of your workshops, I see there is one in September, do you have anything sooner.?I am a little nervous to book something so long in advance.

    • Bev Janisch June 29, 2018 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      Hi Erica! Great point about learning how to live and be in each moment. I would love to see you at one of my workshops. I don’t have a group workshop scheduled before September but am available for private sessions or for those people that would like to pull their own group together. Thank you again for sharing on the blog post!

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