For many, running is sweaty and uncomfortable, and it's a type of exercise to be avoided at all costs. But some people view it in a very different light: as a spiritual discipline.
"It's nice to know that there's always going to be this place where it's just me and the road. There's something really beautiful about that," said Christina Torres, a writer and teacher in Honolulu, on a recent "OnBeing" podcast.
The episode, titled "Running as Spiritual Practice," showcased 11 runners who integrate their daily workout with their religious lives. They described running as a moving meditation, detailing how a few miles on the road allows them to clear their minds and refocus on what's most important in life.
Torres said she likes to run while repeating a mantra, such as "I am strong. I am powerful. I can do this."
Mindful running is a growing phenomenon in the U.S., gaining attention as meditation, in general, becomes more popular, the Deseret News reported in January.
"A lot of people start running to improve their bodies, have fun running races or connect with other people, and those are all great reasons," noted Elinor Fish, who leads mindful running retreats, in the article. "But because running is one of the most natural things for humans to do — we're beautifully designed for it — it makes us better people on a much deeper level."
The spiritual benefits of running seem to be particularly present for ultramarathoners, or people who run more than 26.2 miles in a single race. These athletes are driven by the intrinsic, or internal, value of the pursuit and routinely say they run to feel more connected to themselves and the world around them, as The New Yorker reported last year.
"For me, it's a spiritual journey. I start out listening to music, and then I'll zone out. It becomes an extended form of meditation," said Trishul Cherns, who has run multiday races several times.
However, running as a religious person can also serve an outward purpose, as Simran Jeet Singh told "OnBeing." Because of his Sikh faith, he looks different than many Americans, and he looks at running the streets of his neighborhood as an opportunity to educate his neighbors.
"When people see me on the street with my turban and beard, they have a number of preconceptions about the type of person I am. At worst, they associate me with terrorism. In most cases, people at least associate me with someone who is foreign or strange," he said. "So running is, for me, a simple way to shatter these stereotypes. It challenges people to see me from a different perspective than they would otherwise."
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