I consider, running to be as powerful as meditation, I would say it is the best form of active Zen meditation.
1. All Running needs is our body and some determination
All that we need for running, is a completely operational body (all limbs intact) and some initial determination to counter any inertia or laziness. A treadmill is not necessary, nor is a professional running track.
Although running outdoors has its own advantages, we can even run on one spot, inside our house, without having to wear any running shoes or gear.
2. Running improves circulation, improves health and improves mental health
Running utilizes 16 different muscles of the body, classified under 3 types of muscles (primary, supporting and auxiliary). It is a powerful exercise to boost blood circulation to the body and to the brain. The Cerebral Blood Flow constitutes 15% of the blood flow to the entire body.
Our blood carries all the nutrition in an assimilable to each cell of our body. Our skin, organs, muscles, cartilages, bones, tissues, membranes, nerves, and tendons, are made up of cells. When these cells are nourished, our body is nourished. Toxins and free-radicals are duly flushed out. The body is healthy. A healthy body is free from distractions. The mind within the healthy body is less distracted and more focused. A mind focused on a singular objective is a mind in meditation.
3. When Running the focus automatically shifts on breathing
It is noticed that when we run regularly, our breathing becomes regulated and deeper, our concentration shifts towards breathing and fills the lungs to their designated capacity. In spiritual practices, regulation of breath is a precondition to further advancement. Is it not meditation then, to have the mind and body together watching the inflow and outflow of breath? Inhaling through the nose twice and exhaling through the mouth twice in the same like letting out steam, helps establish a rhythmic pattern while running. This pattern helps build repetition and establish a mantra like effect on the mind.
4. Running exercises both the left and right brain
The human brain is divided into two distinct cerebral hemispheres. Due to contralateral (criss-cross) wiring of nerves, the right hemisphere of the brain, controls the muscles in the left side of our body and the left hemisphere of the brain controls the muscles in the right side of our body. Running is among a few other exercises which coordinate both the right and left major limbs and muscles of the body, thus employing both hemispheres equally, for a prolonged duration. This is just the physiological advantage. The esoteric advantage is that, the Ida and Pingala naadis (energy meridians), start clearing and get equal attention, thus facilitating a faster spiritual growth.
5. Running elevates Serotonin and Dopamine activities in the brain
Serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine is a hormone in the pineal gland, the digestive tract, the central nervous system, and blood platelets. A hormone is a substance our body produces that regulates and controls the activity of certain cells or organs.
Dopamine in the brain, functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine systems, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior.
Some sources say that prince Gautama, after he renounced all worldly possessions, he went on to meditate beneath a tree. For his daily meal he had a bowl of freshly condensed milk and rice for seven consecutive days. On the seventh day the consumption of pure milk induced high levels of serotonin and dopamine in his brain. This catapulted him instantly in a very deep state of trance, following which he attained enlightenment, becoming the Buddha!
Unfortunately, we live in a world where we can neither vouch for the purity of the milk nor the rice. We do not often practice strict penances, limiting our meals to rice and milk only.
Irrespective of whether we want our lives to model the Buddha’s or not, when we run, we elevate the serotonin and dopamine levels in our brain, promoting healthier brain and body activity. In the esoteric sense, the brain of a person in a meditative trance is shown to have maintained optimal levels of serotonin and dopamine.
There are other exercises that are equally good, but they require additional accessories (skipping), or need a certain space and facility (swimming), or place a heavy premium on body nutrients and hormones (sex).
How much should we run?
It is always safe to exercise within our physical capacities. Studies reveal that running for 30-40 minutes at a pace of 4-5 kmph, 3-4 times a day promotes optimal health.
Why run and not walk?
A walk if brisk or fast is permissive, however, running is a more engaging for the mind and body, because of the kines-thesis and dynamism involved.