Last year, I wrote a post on how adopting a meditation practice can improve your running, but it didn’t feel entirely complete to me; so, I decided to write a sequel. I adopted a practice 3 years ago and with each passing year, I acquire new insights and benefits that I can apply to my training, and more importantly, my life. When I get in touch with myself through sitting still, listening to my breathing, and staying curious of my thoughts and inner feelings, I’m better equipped to handle the negative emotions and resistance I face on a daily basis. I’m better able to defeat the thoughts of negativity and the ongoing inner monologue that tells me I’m not good enough, and combat that lil’ bitch called procrastination.
In addition to my 10-minute daily practice, I’ve also been going to a meditation class consistently (conventionally at a Buddhist Temple, but due to COVID, my class is now held on Zoom) with a shifu (master). In this post, I’m going to expand on some of the key points from my last post and also draw on some insights and wisdom from my amazing meditation teacher, Yuan Jing.
At one of our classes, I had the pleasure of hearing Yuan’s story. Growing up in an impoverished village in China, Yuan learned to live the life of a monk. He was chosen at a young age to live in the Shaolin Temple and became a Master in Kung Fu, Tai Chi and Meditation. Later, he travelled the world, which opened his eyes to many people in need of help; with the wisdom and fearlessness learned from the Shaolin Temple, he decided to part ways with that chapter of his life, and instead, selflessly devote his life to helping others through the skills developed at the temple.
In my last post, I mentioned how the practice alone wasn’t enough for me to derive the full benefits that meditation can serve. The combination of guided meditation, books on spirituality/Buddhism, and most importantly, becoming a student under a shifu (master) was when I really started to up my game and do the ongoing inner work needed to make transformative changes in my life. Yuan’s teachings have been pivotal in changing my perspective on how I see the world. I’m looking forward to sharing some soundbites I’ve learned with the hopes that you can apply some of the following teachings to your life as well.
A question Yuan poses often in our class is this:
“Why do you practice?”
I find this question so fascinating for this very reason: the motivation and benefits I derive from my practice are constantly in flux. Every time I meditate on this question, I come up with slightly different answers based on new ways my practice creeps into my life and the day-to-day. A few of the many common ones I keep circling back to are the following: increased focus, feeling inner calm, reducing anxiety, producing more deep work, staying focused on the task at hand, exploring my relationships on a deeper level and being fully engaged in conversation, enjoying my food more, being fully present during my workouts, combating the negative thoughts that arise, etc. I have a full rolodex of reasons that are too lengthy to name for this post, which is why I encourage you to adopt a practice of your own and pull meaning from your meditation in your own unique way.
Meditation & Goals
How can meditation help you set and achieve your goals?
Meditation is a long game and more akin to an ultramarathon than a sprint. One of the first steps is to acknowledge that meditation isn’t a means to an end, but rather, an ongoing, lifelong journey deep within ourselves. Here’s the paradox: we can use our practice to set and achieve our goals, but there is no end goal or final destination with meditation. For type A’s like myself, this can be difficult to fathom. Why practice an activity where there’s no sense of accomplishment or medal I can hang on my wall? Where are the metrics? The key performance indicators? How can I track this in my excel spreadsheet?
While sitting still and following our breath seems rudimentary, meditation is so much more than that. I learned a very important teaching in one of Yuan’s classes that has stuck with me.
The practice is the goal itself.
He used the analogy of the cyclicality of weight loss that some individuals experience. Say, for example, an individual sets a goal to lose 10 pounds. They eat super clean, workout every day and once they hit that goal, they pat themselves on the back only to find that the bad habits slowly start to creep back in again. Then a few months later, after the weight returns, they say to themselves, “hmmm I should probably lose 10lbs.” Then go through the same process. Rinse, repeat. Forever. Sound familiar? I’ve definitely been here.
Meditation is different as there aren’t any overtly palpable results. The end goal is to adopt a lifelong practice and uncover the unique benefits that you can pepper throughout your life. With your practice, you can acquire skills necessary to be a contender in this long game. Yuan writes,
As an athlete or a person in various fields who want to successfully obtain self-goals, you must not overlook these important attributes: self-discipline, determination, concentration, dedication, patience, sincerity, calmness and perhaps more… From practicing meditation and self-learning you can gain these wisdoms and once you acquire these wisdoms, you have the power to achieve your personal goals.
For me, all of the above attributes have been further developed by my practice. For example, as I get farther along in my fitness journey, improvements in my running performance & strength become incremental – I don’t see improvement every day. My practice has given me the knowledge that by continuing my dedication to fitness, I can shift away from tunnel vision of the end result and enjoy the small improvements that compound over time. It helps me better enjoy the different – and less discovered – facets of pleasure that running & training bring. What attributes do you want to further develop to help to achieve your life goals?
There’s a type of meditation we practice often in our classes called object meditation. The premise is to pose a question to yourself before you begin your meditation and then during the session, focus on that question and see if the answers will come.
I use this technique to help me set what I want to achieve in the upcoming year. For example. I sometimes start by focusing on my breathing and saying aloud, “what do I want to explore further and what do I want to achieve this year?” Sometimes I’ll leave the session with a few answers and sometimes, I don’t. Regardless, there’s always one consistent outcome: I get more clarity. When I drop this question and instinctively listen for the answers, I’m better able to connect with my heart, allow ideas to start formulating, and I become more aligned with what I really want. When I come up with a meaningless or materialistic goal, I feel a numb or empty feeling in my stomach. I’ve interpreted that feeling as the wrong path for me, reject that goal, and move on to something else.
When I’m working towards a goal that aligns with my values and heart, I feel full of energy and excitement. It was my practice of meditation that helped me look inside and really understand my body’s emotions and signals. Deep, eh?
If I don’t come up with the answer right away, I’ve at least planted the seed in my subconscious. The answer eventually comes, however, as long as I’m patient and trusting. My ideas usually surface when I’m engaged in another activity and my mind is still (ie. running, walking in nature, showering, etc.).
Try this yourself. Before you start your meditation, focus on a problem you need help solving or perhaps you can use this session to brainstorm creative ideas for a project you’re working on. Give it a go and see what happens.
How Meditation Can Improve Your Training
As I mentioned in my first post, adopting a practice can not only help you improve your running performance, but also help you find a genuine enjoyment in the activity. Being intensely present, listening to your breathing, feeling the sweat pouring down your face, and the endorphins kick in is euphoric. Running through nature with beautiful scenery and piney smells is cathartic. When you meditate, you learn to heighten your senses around you. When your mind is still, you leave room to be fully engaged in the activity. When I’m in this state, I enjoy my running so much more.
Meditation can also help you train for race goals. Say, for example, you set a goal to run a marathon or ultramarathon. While race goals do require some physical training, there should be an emphasis on the mental side. For me, my mental training is even more important than the physical, especially during endurance events. There will come a point in a race where you will be exhausted, sore, maybe even experience intense pain; this is where you need to have the mental strength to battle your negative thoughts. Your body is screaming at you and while yes, you should listen if it’s extreme (and might lead to injury), but a lot of the time you need to have an internal battle with yourself to push past those barriers. We need to listen, be receptive and acknowledge our emotions, but we also need to take a deep dive into what emotions are fleeting and can restrict our goals.
Meditation can help you deal with that. Yuan writes:
What makes us different from computers and machines is that we have emotions. Many athletes lose the game because they cannot control their emotions. The pressure comes from emotional egos and over thinking. If you want to win more, you must learn to control your emotions. One of the best ways in the world today is to meditate; [the practice] can improve your inner strength, slow your breathing, and control various emotions. This is the exact technique of meditation.
Here’s a story to help with the practical application: During my first 100-mile race, I got lost in the forest. I completely missed a loop and started to panic; I knew something was wrong when I approached an aid station way too soon. So many crazy thoughts went through my head: my pacer is not going to meet me at the time we had originally set because I’m going to be at least an hour early, I left my headlamp at the aid station I missed and it’s starting to get dark…I only had a puny little flashlight from the dollar store on me. Am I going to even be able to finish or will I need to drop out because I veered off course? My mind was running a mile a minute (obviously, not my body lol). I felt anxiety, panic, and overwhelming emotions where I wanted to cry and throw in the towel.
This is when I made the decision to surrender. To surrender and accept the circumstances and have trust that despite what happens, everything will be okay. I focused on my breathing; my mind began to clear. When I approached the next aid station, I calmly asked the volunteer to get in contact with my pacer who was back at aid station 2 and let her know that I’m ahead of schedule. Sure enough, when I rolled up to our meeting spot, there she was waiting for me, ready to go.
Apparently the entire race crew – volunteers and even some runners – knew about my situation. They were scared that I got lost in the forest at one point during an intense downpour and thunderstorm. April (my pacer) said it’s up to the race director to determine whether they’d let me do the loop I missed at the end and get an official finish. I decided that no matter what happens, I’m going to complete the course. I signed up to run 100 miles and I’m damn well going to run that 100 miles.
Long story short, I did the hell-ish 10k loop at the end that I missed, the race director granted me an official finish of 1st place female and 3rd place overall. If I gave into my emotions, I can guarantee that I would have dropped out when I realized I missed that aid station. My panicky mind wouldn’t have given me the space to think through other options and I would have just thrown in the towel. My practice didn’t teach me to suppress the emotions, but rather, feel them, let them pass, get control and bring my mind to stillness so I could deal with the situation both creatively and pragmatically.
My intentions writing this post were to make it short and succinct, however, when it comes to the benefits meditation provides, the story can be ongoing. I could write enough pages on how it’s helped me in the pursuit of my goals to fill multiple books, but I want you to uncover the beauty of meditation yourself. And here’s the thing: as I get deeper into my practice and spiritual journey, I can continue to add to that story.
Here’s my main takeaway: there is not a single person on this earth that can’t derive benefits from adopting a meditation practice. While sitting and focusing on your breath for 10 minutes may be beneficial to some, I also think it’s equally as important to understand the context so you can derive more meaning. I’ll link to some of my favourite resources below.
Practice then apply your practice to all areas of your life; not just training. Meditation can help us battle those negative emotions or the self limiting voice that desperately wants to keep us from our goals. Resistance, procrastination, and self-doubt are just a few of the resistive emotions that can be combated through the development of inner strength.
I wish you all the best on your spiritual journey & thank you for reading.
If you’re interested in learning more on Shifu Yuan Jing’s classes on Tai Chi, Meditation, Kung Fu, or Qi Gong, you can find more information on his website.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
A New Earth: Awakening Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
The Art of Living: Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now by Thich Nhat Hanh
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zin
The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer
The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by David R. Hawkins
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life by Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally
Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day by Jay Shetty