Running is metaphysical. Like meditation or yoga, running is transforming. It can help fight stress and at a metaphysical level, it can spark much self discovery.
Haruki Murakami, in his memoir What I Talk about when I Talk about Running, lists running to be the anchor for his writing. He ascribes his success as a writer to his daily regimen of running. Running is thus a transcendent experience for Murakami, running, and writing is like yin and yang.
Anybody who practices running can tell you the benefits of running. But not everyone has the same profound understanding or observations on running. And even for experts, it is not possible to actually pinpoint how running and brain functions interact with each other completely. There is much talk about endorphin release and positive feelings. But most ideas about the relation between the two are not well defined. For instance, it may not be possible to heal a particular mental ailment by running, but it is possible to create greater tenacity and mental balance by practicing running.
Running is like intoxication. At one level the mind and body slip into an enchantment with the process of running. The movement at a fast or a steady pace provides a lasting calmness in the mind. A good long run is not only a bodily experience but a cognitive activity. Trying to keep a balanced breathing is not just a matter of free will, but a rhythm or a beat. Running is cognitive because at a metaphysical level, it is our inner rhythm which controls our breathing, pace and stride.
Running as an activity emerged at the dawn of evolution of mankind. It is speculated that mankind developed running while practicing ‘persistent hunting’. ‘Persistent hunting’ is the pursuit of an animal for great distances eventually leading the animal to death by exhaustion. It is said that a small antelope dies of exhaustion if it is pursued in this manner for a distance of approximately 34 miles. It is said that the two animals that evolved to run because of the physiological changes that maximize running, are humans and horses. We can assume that running plays an important role in evolution from the fact that it is one of the major reasons humans developed hairless bodies, like horses.
Trying to understand incidents of evolution can be a very speculative process. It is not possible to say anything with certainty, or if it’s possible to be certain then most arguments start to sound fallacious. Theories of evolution are ridden by petitio principii type of argumentation or, like begging the question. For instance, it is not possible to talk of even a single feature that evolved without presupposing that such and such feature is necessary for survival. Furthermore, even if running helped an individual become a better hunter it would lead to great confusion trying to prove that running as such helped the species to survive better.
But running is a metaphysical activity in more ways than one. For example, we do not clearly understand the reasons for the difference of pace and stride between an elite athlete and a recreational athlete. It is speculated that an elite athlete can maintain a better pace and stride over longer distances than a recreational athlete because the elite athlete uses hip muscles while the recreational athletes use more leg muscles.
But it is not known properly how using hip muscles propels the body with a better pace and stride. To a scientist, the explanation is enough, even though it does not really explain the difference. Scientists are happy to just explain that the source of power is different and somehow the hips are stronger to propel the body etc. Much of the explanation lies in making assumptions about the body without being critical. Additionally, most scientists seem to never try and explain breathing and running together.
Breathing is the most important part of running and living. Rhythmic breathing can influence our state of mind, it enables us to control our emotions and practices such as pranayama are essential aspects of meditation and Yoga. As with these two esoteric practices, maintaining a control over breathing can revolutionize running as an activity for any individual.
This control over breathing is the key to developing a better pace and stride. Breathing is not a muscle which can be made stronger, it is a rhythmic movement. Because it is a rhythmic movement, it is best manifested as sound. Meditating to a mantra or making a sound while throwing a punch or a kick in Karate are examples of this practice of juxtaposing sound and breathing that helps one exceed one’s achievements. It also demonstrates that sound and breathing share much common ground.
In more evolutionary terms running or ‘persistent hunting’ and thus greater control over breathing could have had a transcendent effect on the human race. Running is a rhythmic activity and to recognize that opens the possibility that rhythm in the body could also produce understanding of rhythmic sounds. It is only a matter of accidents and innovation before a person in their own life time can discover basic elements of music. In more primitive times, perhaps rhythm was as good as music itself. The simple act of creating music and recognizing music also lays a much harder ground for evolution of speech and language.
In evolutionary terms, evolution of the individual traits and the species as a whole are quite exclusive. It is not possible to argue from one to the other. It is a logical abyss between the two types of arguments which cannot be made to meet. If we need to bring them together it will have to be a transcendent argument or experience.
Running is older than esoteric practices such as meditation and yoga, and possibly has a greater potential to generate transcendent experiences. But it is our own prejudices as scientists and theorists that we fail to correlate the variety of explanations into a systematic understanding or even the possibility of it. Running is transcendent in nature. It not only exercises the body, but it also helps greatly in keeping the mind healthy and focused. And its true potential is open to anyone who delves into its depth.