Enlightened Exercise

Men cannot see their reflection in running water, but only in still water.

Chuang Tzu, philosopher (c. 4th century BCE)

It seems like those who are really into yoga sometimes think that a yoga practice must be done at the exclusion of all other physical exercise. While it’s true that there are only so many hours in the day into which a person can cram a yoga routine around work, family, social life, eating, etc., I’ve found that a balance of yoga and other physical exercise seems to help my mind and body feel its best. Although some of us may wish we lived in Himalayan caves, practicing yoga night and day, for the overwhelming majority of us, that dream is simply not reality.

While there are undeniable benefits that come from regularly finding time to step on the yoga mat, there are many other pathways for developing the mind-body connection. Almost any physical activity, whether it’s tennis or running or swimming, when approached with the same yogic mindset can be used as an opportunity for contemplation, meditation, and breath-awareness.

Zen Habits has a great article on The Zen of Running, describing how running can be used to develop present-mindedness and concentration. Lately, I’ve been totally into running. Even though I can’t say that I always get the same peaceful, relaxing feeling of yoga when I run, I often leave the iPod at home and use the repetitive nature of running to enter a meditation-like state, concentrating mainly on my breathing patterns. All I can say is it works for me. Everyone’s different, so it may or may not work for you. But, you never know until you try.

One of the suggestions from the Zen Habits blog is to keep a journal for recording thoughts and impressions that come while mindfully exercising. Since I like running, I’ve used a website called RunningAHEAD to track my running progress. In addition to tracking miles, times, and routes, RunningAHEAD also provides a convenient way to journal any ideas or thoughts that come to mind while out running. It’s nice to look back sometimes at the journal entries and remember those days I was in the zone. It’s also very motivating.

The principles of yoga can be applied to almost any activity. For me, both running and yoga get me into that “stillness” that Chuang Tzu says must be discovered before human beings are able to see their true reflection, before they find out who they really are. For ancient yogis, it took A LOT of experimentation before they started systematizing the limbs of yoga and creating a system of movement that almost magically led to inner stillness. In fact, that experimentation has never stopped and continues still today. As John Parker said in Once a Runner, “If the furnace is hot enough, it will burn anything.” That is what yoga does for me; that is what running does for me. If that’s not yogic, then I don’t know what is.

Bottom-line: Be like the ancient yogis and try something new; you might find enlightenment along the way.


  1. Love, Love your entry for the day!! I am a Runner and a Yogini~ training for my second Marathon and running without my Ipod…focusing on my breath..the rythym of the breath…the “Mind Body: connection and the highs from running are beyond words.
    Love it!

  2. Agreed, Tracy. I fully support the idea of innovating around traditional yoga practice. I find that running balances the slower, deeper movements of yoga with cardio-rich movement and dynamic repetition. For those who want to integrate yoga and running, check my blog at http://www.pranalife.typepad.com for a Yoga4Runners downloadable doc that gives a handful of good yoga postures to complement the effects running has on your body.

    Thanks for this insightful post! I always enjoy your writing.

  3. I’m glad I found your blog!

    I’m with you about shaking things up – a balance between yoga and other types of exercise is best for me. After practicing yoga for five days running,today I decided to swim laps instead. Talk about pranayama! I love the great big lung-filled breaths I take while swimming laps.

    I’d love to add you to my blogroll. If you get a chance, check out my blog. I write about swimming, spiritualty, motherhood, and anything else that crosses my radar.


  4. wow I have always wanted to learn yoga and try it. Though never came around to fiding the time to do so. I will keep lookng back to this blog for furter reading.

    So I am going to bookmark this website 🙂

  5. Awesome post!!Every time I ask my husband if he wants to do practice yoga with me, he tells me his running is his yoga. Now I understand a little better what he means.

  6. Love! I also agree that any activity can be done with a yogic approach. I think it’s about finding balance and I think that is possible to become unbalanced by doing only asana.

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