From daily physical exercise to daily meditation training : Extending the happiness state of mind to daily life.
I am 47 and I have been trail running (or urban running when living in a big city) for the last 27 years. I run moderate distances (6 to 15 kms) at least twice a week. I run because I feel good when doing it and I feel even better in the following 48 hours. Running helps me handle the pressure of a busy life, literally by sweating it out.
I believe this was one important step for a balanced happy life, thanks to the reliable physical health this training generated and to the associated post-effort mental relief.
Four years ago, as I was turning 43, I had to get through medical exams to get a loan for my company CIXI. My blood pressure was high as usual, but this time I decided to act on it. So I started to read about meditation training, not knowing exactly what to expect but having the feeling that finding a couple of mindful daily exercises could help.
I started training in mindfulness, with one single rule: one training a day, no matter the planning. I would grab the first moment of quietness (even 5 min) I could in the day. Very quickly, I felt some relief (a quieter state of mind) during and just after those small daily sessions — I also quickly felt the envy to add more time to this activity. I adapted my planning, starting with one mindful training every morning, first thing when I wake up. Today I am even on two sessions a day, when waking up and before going to bed. And each time I can grab more, I do it.
Three months in the training and my blood pressure was down to a standard level and I started to feel relaxed not only during and just after the effort, but on longer periods of time. Other positive effects also showed up, and those would not appear with running only. Why so ?
Daily physical activity generates daily moments of wellness
As time passed by, I enjoyed not only the post-effort satisfaction and post-strain relaxation but also more and more the pleasure of exploring the places around me by running around (literally), whether it be a city or the surroundings mountains (I prefer that second option).
With more time spent on running, came even more satisfactions :
- During the effort, I enjoy the focus on muscle work, on the effort and pain management. I appreciate the focus on maintaining the heart rate and the breathing in balance.
- Sharp and crisp feeling/ sensation of being here and now — running up a path or running down a technical slope requires attention, which dissolves circling or intrusive thoughts. I’ve noticed that does not work if the path is not asking for enough concentration.
- An overall state of physical flow of energy, with no ‘swamps zones’ in the body, nor in the mind. Physical wellbeing through endorphins and a good sweating, not to mention an improved fitness. Mental state oscillates from focus (technical path, uphill strain) to relaxed mindstate (just after a peak effort, when relief sets in) — with times of tiredness or boredom.
I believe physical exercise is about bringing balance in the flows in your body. It generates a positive state of mind, a feeling of wellness and quite often straightforward happiness. In my case, the positive state of mind lasts on average 24 to 36 hours after the training session. Then it fades out and I need to go back running on the trails. This is where meditation came in necessary, to extend the positive state of mind to all the rest of my daily life.
Daily meditation training sessions stabilize, deepen and extend my happiness
2020 is my fourth year of daily training on the mindfulness path. I train the way I do everything else, trying by myself exercises I find interesting (mostly found in books (1) ) and observing what happens in time, without worrying too much about it. If it has positive impacts, cool, if not, no worries. The training is a mix of breathing and visualization exercises, with a sequence based on ethics (altruism and compassion mostly). My first versions were light, not lasting more than 5 to 10 minutes, still the results motivated me to enrich them with more exercises (2) found in books.
The fruits of this training :
- I do no longer react with 180 pulses per minute heart beats under any stressful situations (even benign ones would have done that to me in the past). Recently a car driver honked in an unfriendly way while I was biking — I managed to avoid completely the heart rate increase, by not reacting with anger. At work as well as at home, I manage conflicts with more serenity than before, hence solving them more easily. My ability to step back from nocive emotions (fear / anger / resentment…) has seriously improved.
- I cannot tell whether I generate more positive vibes for my relatives or friends than before, as I’ve always been an enthusiastic guy. But what changed is the stability of my mood: some depressed or nostalgic moments I would experience in the past simply vanished.
- And last but not least, I experience much longer periods of positive wellness after effects of the training sessions.
Today my path to an even happier life is a balanced practise of physical training (I bike daily to work and I run and swim two or three times a week) for the wellness moments they generate, and daily mindfulness training to deepen and extend them to all daily activities.
1- Here are the first two books that paved my learning path:
The joy of living (Bonheur de la méditation in French) — Yongey Mingyour Rinpotché (Author)
The art of meditation (L’art de la Méditation — Pourquoi méditer ? sur quoi ? comment ? in French) — Matthieu Ricard
2- Here is my typical day in terms of meditation training:
I train first in the morning, just after getting out of my bed. This has a positive impact on the first hours of my day (and probably on the rest of the day too). It also made me realise I prefer sleeping 6 hours plus a short siesta in the day than sleeping 8 hours in a row.
from year two on, I added training before going to bed — this time it changed the quality of my dreams, which went from chaotic to more peaceful night journeys.