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Run On A Path, Run As A Path

2010/06/21

For people being burned by the three afflictions (spiritual afflictions, physical afflictions, and worldly afflictions), Hatha Yoga is the best place of refuge. And for Sadhakas engaged in any kind of Yoga, it is a foundation like a tortoise.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 1:10.

the Path

Find your path, and run on it.

I doubt I’m alone among runners when it comes to being asked why I run.

“You trying to lose weight or something?”

No. But it is an added benefit.

“Then why?”

Because I like to.

And that’s when I typically get the You’re Fucking Crazy look from my inquisitor. To many non-runners, the prospect of running even one mile is insane, much less 6.2, 13.1, 26.2, or longer.

“Because I like to” is a generic answer, but it’s all I can offer to people for whom a deeper analysis of the joy to be found in running would be totally lost. Once, as a co-worker puffed away on a cigarette, he asked me this line of questioning, and then proclaimed, “Man, I couldn’t even run around the block if I wanted to.”

Puff Puff.

Aside from inventing chakra-scented body sprays, the yogis of ancient India had some cool ideas. Today, especially in the West, we decided to take only the smallest snippet of their wisdom and turned it into a modern marketing nightmare, what with your Hatha Yoga Power Pants and your Yoga Bootie Ballet DVDs. But that’s an entirely different post. Those wise sages did, however, pass on knowledge about various spiritual paths – YOGA – which means “to yoke” – Yoga is NOT just contorting oneself into 108 funky positions. In fact, this is just a tiny part of the larger yogic philosophy. BUT….

It is a yogic path, called HATHA YOGA. It can be simply described as “the Path of the Physical.” To some modern yogis and yoginis, Hatha is it’s own style of yoga and they try to distinguish it from other styles such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Kripalu, etc., but in reality, all styles that incorporate physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation are Hatha yoga. Quite simply, if you are working with the physical body as a means for, well, reaching new heights, it’s Hatha yoga. By purifying the body through physical activity, breathwork, and other special processes, one’s mind will be purified as a result.

Running, as far as I’m concerned, is Hatha yoga. If you run because you enjoy it. If you run because of the thrill, or for that feeling of calm and connectedness and focus you feel. Another component that I relate to the Hatha path is developing keen awareness of your body. Feeling subtle changes in the muscles, the breath, the nerves during or after physical activity. The more you use your body, pushing it, testing limits, the more in tune with you will become with its nuances.

If you hate running but you run to lose 20 pounds, it’s not a spiritual path. I mean, hey, good for you for doing it! Keep it up! But if you’re miserable, you can’t be happy, you can’t find RELEASE. However, one may begin running for such a mundane reason and eventually discover the more ethereal effects – what an unexpected joy!

And isn’t spirituality all about release, freedom? To lose yourself, to find yourself, to free yourself, to rise above all the shit and suffering and feel alive, that is the essence of being spiritual. And the most incredibly liberating thing about running as a spiritual path is that very little is required, just your body, legs, feet, shoes (optional), clothes (optional). One does not need to belong to a group, gather at a designated building on a designated day, or follow a guru. Although, running with a group and training with a coach is beneficial, neither is necessary. All you need is you and a path to set out on.

Running is not for everyone, I admit, because not everyone is inclined to physical activity as a spiritual release. For some, helping others is their path, or getting lost in devotional song, or communing with the birds and trees. As the Buddha, or the Lama called Dalai, or some other sage or saint once said, “The paths are many, the goal is One.”

If running is your thing, how do you feel? Elevated? High? Calm? Centered? At peace? Do you come home from a run, blaze up some incense and pay homage to Nike (THE GODDESS! duh), Mercury and Hermes? Or rather, just bask in the spiritual euphoria running offers while you can, before you have to return to Life.

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