As a runner and a meditation practitioner, I am often pleasantly surprised by the similarities between the two activities. When I meditate, I allow myself to experience the present – at least to a greater degree than I do during the rest of my day. Even when my mind wanders or when I start to experience anxiety about future plans or past mistakes, during meditation, it is easier for me to recognize those habitual thought patterns and separate myself from them.
When I consciously acknowledge that worry and anxiety are nothing more than ingrained ways of thinking, I permit myself to experience those emotions while not allowing them to overwhelm me or dictate my actions. I am able to do this because meditation helps me to stay in the present. It makes it easier for me to understand that, no matter what I may be worried about, in the present, my life is just fine. That is not to say that it is inadvisable to plan for the future, or course. But by staying in the present, it is easier for me to make plans in a calm manner, without being plagued with worry or anxiety.
I enjoy a similar experience when I run. Because running is very physical experience, it helps me to feel embodied and grounded. I have been a runner since I was 13, so at this point, it is second nature to me. When I run, my breath, my strides, and the pumping of my arms fall into sync. My body is in harmony, and I enjoy a greater degree of coordination than I do at other times. This physically harmonious feeling helps me to come back to earth, to pull away from the “monkey mind” that gets caught in loops of destructive thinking. And as is the case during meditation, I feel more firmly grounded in my present reality. For anyone working to promote presence and to alleviate the anxiety caused when emotions become overwhelming, I recommend a combination of aerobic exercise and meditation, as the two are highly complementary.