Running Adds Firepower to Yoga: the Gradual Transition from Pranayama to Pratyahara and Beyond

Atul Agarwal, Mumbai

Yoga develops the breathing technique and also the core of our body consisting of backbone, hand-leg and abdominal muscles, and gives us a platform to exert ourselves in strenuous physical activity such as running, mountain climbing, soccer. These physical activities in turn build up endurance and willpower.


  • i) Running is a natural instinct among humans and a way to express both joy and fear.
  • ii) If proper precaution is taken it does not cause wear and tear in the body. In fact, it further strengthens the joint muscles, reducing the load on the joints.
  • iii) Running long distances increases the heart rate 2.5 to 3 times more than normal and we gradually learn to maintain this increased rate for a longer duration. It is also observed that the resting heart rate of regular runners falls in the range of 40–50.
  • iv) In some Buddhist monasteries the monks are required to run for an hour every day before sunrise.
  • v) Initially I combined running with awareness of breath and later added mantra also. Though it is difficult in the beginning to get into the rhythm, once I do, it becomes easy and helps to focus on mantra even better than during practice in a relaxed sitting position.
  • vi) Running helps in yoga and yoga helps in running.
  • vii) Students at the American School Mumbai (all nationalities) are regular runners and are fit.

Experience during running long distance

After running for a certain duration and reaching a constant heart rate of 150–160, most thoughts cease to exist and all one can think or hear is one's breath. Even though we are dead tired, the urge to stop is equal to the urge to continue. The mind remains calm the whole day.

Running and children

We conducted a 5km run (no race, with no prize) for children in the age group of 5 to 15 years and about ninety children participated. The parents thought 5km was quite long but were surprised to see them run and complete effortlessly. The children suggested that we have this event every week if not every month. Some of them became regular runners.

How to incorporate running as a spiritual practice

Pratipaksh action: Swami Niranjan speaks about developing pratipaksh bhavana, opposite thinking and feeling, as a means of performing the yamas and niyamas. As urban and suburban Indians we hardly do any physical activity and this calls for pratipaksh action: to perform vigorous and strenuous physical activity. Outdoor running is probably the best, however, not all places in India are suitable for running.

Sankalpa: having a sankalpa helps in enduring the pain and making the run more meaningful during endurance running. The sankalpa can be, 'Let the pain endured by me help in relieving the pain of others'. This way the runner gets a feeling that the run is not an action in futile but in line with the teaching of 'serve, love and give'. This is only a theory and I request Swamiji to throw more light on it.

Equilibrium running zone

After overcoming the initial pain of running when the individual has a strong desire to give up, there comes a stage when the pain and the urge to stop diminish. This stage can be called 'equilibrium stage', and it is always rewarding to run in this equilibrium zone.

Meditate immediately after a vigorous run

Cool down and sit for five minutes with the awareness at the eyebrow centre. You will be able to feel the pulsation at ajna, vishuddhi, anahata, manipura and maybe swadhisthana and mooladhara chakras, all at the same time. The intensity of pulsation is highest at ajna and gradually decreases as you go down, and it is lowest, if at all perceptible, at mooladhara.

Yoga nidra and running

After approximately one to two hours of running one can do a capsule of yoga nidra. There might be a strong tendency to fall asleep as the body is tired.

Suggested steps to running

  • i) Start with ten minutes of continuous running either early morning or late evening with a one hour gap after dinner.
  • ii) Build stamina at the rate of five minutes every week so that gradually you can run continuously for at least forty-five minutes.
  • iii) Just before completing the run, exert the maximum you can with a 200 to 400 metre sprint.
  • iv) Meditate on the eyebrow centre and observe the chakras.
  • v) Run for at least five days a week with one long run of forty-five minutes to one hour.
  • vi) Perform the capsule of yoga nidra for rejuvenation.

Benefits observed

Greater clarity in thought; less mental turbulence; a higher level of concentration during mantra sadhana and kriya yoga; and enhanced self-confidence and willpower.

Side effects

Muscular and body pain followed by slight headache. This tends to disappear once the body is used to running.