Mind Over Exercise

Two decades ago, meditation meets running in a New York Times article by William Stockton (ON YOUR OWN: Fitness; Strategy for Workouts: Mind Over Boredom, 1988-10-17). In this ancient pre-iPod era crude "personal stereos" are used by some to distract thenselves during exercise. But Stockton points out the "touchy-feely" possibilities of simple awareness:

In this approach, meditation becomes a means of paying careful attention to the body during a workout. In the act of focusing on the workout second by second, the mind begins to transcend the pain or the shortness of breath or the sluggishness we feel at the moment, all those things that make the workout such a chore. Time flies in this semi-altered mental state, the proponents claim. They say that when we reach this wondrous plateau, the entire body seems to be moving in synchrony, effortlessly.

The mind tends to become very one-pointed, said Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an associate professor of medicine in the division of preventive and behavioral medicine at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine in Worcester, and a proponent of meditation. For the runner it's when you hit that sense that you could run forever or the swimmer could swim forever. The mind is still, just kind of there and still. Completely connected to the body.


Meditation is really a form of concentration. Concentrate on the body. Pay attention to what it is telling you. The mind will wander, so learn to quickly notice when it wanders and bring it back to focusing on the physical task at hand. For example, a runner might focus on each footstep or the swimmer on each stroke or the oarsman on the rhythm of the moving oar. Each time the mind wanders, bring it back, gently but firmly. If there is pain, focus on it. If this is done with enough concentration, the mind turns inward, to a state of relaxed concentration, of detached awareness.

Stockton quotes other medical professionals who find: "... those who are more highly trained tend to pay much more attention to their stride, to their breathing and make adjustments ..." and "... elite marathoners tend to exhibit associative behavior more than less highly trained runners ..." and "... meditation can work for someone, although you probably have to be a more advanced athlete and work hard at it to get results ...". He describes his own experiment in following his breath during a morning jog, and concludes:

And then it's over. To be sure, detached awareness is missing. But is there a hint of it? Perhaps. And the boredom seemed less. Could Dr. Kabat-Zinn be right? Perhaps if one practices his form of meditation enough, sits quietly and thinks about his breathing.

But nevermind. It's time to get ready for work.

His guardedly-skeptical essay ends with a quick-start tutorial:

How to Begin Meditation Training

^z - 2008-10-22

(correlates: Wherever You Go, There You Are, HerodotusOnThePersianPost, Extremes of Major Deprivation, ...)