Photo Credit: Josephine Krughoff

In March, I will be running a self-supported 108k trail “moving meditation” at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville to honor Sri Gurudev Swami Satchidananda—the Woodstock Guru—during the 50th anniversary year of Woodstock.

Although I have decades of experience running long distance, this will be different than any other trail run that I’ve ever taken on since I will be primarily focused on honoring Gurudev and the Ashram.

Gurudev chose the location of Yogaville—international headquarters of Integral Yoga®— as the site of his dream of “heaven on earth” and it is a profound honor to have the opportunity to experience this distance on such hallowed ground.

During the weekend, I will be pausing for meditation in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, in addition to morning and evening Yoga classes. When available, I will be stopping for puja (daily worship), as well. In addition, on each loop, I will be taking my shoes off to walk through all sacred sites and will stop to show respect at Kailash (the Nataraja Shrine), Chidambaram, and LOTUS.

I will follow the general guidelines of Yogaville—no meat, fish, eggs, or alcohol. I will limit my intake of sugar and caffeine to a minimal amount. My phone will be off throughout the weekend.

The message that opened Woodstock 50 years ago remains the powerful message of Yogaville and Integral Yoga today: Always choose peace by seeking it within. Running for me is a moving meditation that brings me closer to the peace and stillness within.

While I haven’t decided on the path that I will follow, I’m estimating 2-mile loops on trail primarily, with a few brief road sections within the LOTUS gate and on Karuna Lane leading to Kailash. I will choose the path to honor Yogaville and will make every attempt not to overlook any of its beauty. Not only will I be following a “leave no trace” approach on the trails, but will stop to care for the trails as necessary. I will be camping during my stay and will arrive early to first establish a greater sense of well-being before beginning the run.

Each step will be guided by Gurudev and the beauty and peacefulness of Yogaville. The opportunity will allow me to promote the message of Yogaville and importance of appreciating the peace, stillness, and happiness that is ever present within each of us.

Nothing brings me greater peace than becoming one with nature by freeing and opening myself to the freedom that is available when fear drops away and the journey fills with pure possibility. To bring this passion to my experience on the trails at Yogaville is a profound, magnificent opportunity.

There are many parallels between Yoga and running. For me, the connection between both activities is in the disentangling of the grasping and holding onto what isn’t needed in the body and in the mind. The result is the unraveling of the tightness of who I am to find greater freedom, which is at the core of my experience of life. In a word, it all comes down to one thing—flow.

In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the state of flow as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

For me, Yoga requires effort and practice to find a deep state of flow and feel the hard edges of the day and my state of mind begin to soften. Without years of practice (and hopefully many more ahead of me), I would never have found the sense of peace and contentment that comes from a meaningful flow experience that is available through Yoga.

Similarly, running in a state of flow releases all tension and worry and focuses the mind and body on what Gurudev always described as the “golden present.” Through practice and discipline, running can feel like flying—all the cares of the world fall away and I feel truly alive. The great cost, as Csikszentmihalyi noted, is the challenges that arise, yet overcoming these obstacles leads to a greater sense of freedom within the body and within the mind.

Running long distance is not about torture or pain or exhaustion. Rather, it is about finding peace and freedom within the challenge. It is about breathing into the tightness until there is a release. It is about creating a mental and physical habit of always maintaining stillness and ease despite any obstacles. For many truly dedicated runners (myself included), the meaning of life can be found in the experience of long-distance running.

On the mat, the meaning of life can be found in the experience of bringing together mind, body, and spirit to share a state of flow and experience the now. Yoga is a discipline—the journey is not possible without a commitment to finding stillness and ease within. With discipline comes the great reward of loosening the chains and feeling a greater sense of freedom that does not dissipate when we leave the studio. As Swami Satchidananda taught, “An undisciplined mind can cause you to run here and there, chasing desire after desire as you search for happiness outside yourself. That is where the practice of meditation comes in: it can lead us to the real freedom—inner freedom.”

Many saints and sages have made great sacrifices to attain samadhi through meditation practices that most people would call extreme. The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei who (figuratively) circle the globe on foot within a seven-year training period aimed at achieving enlightenment, combine practices of meditation and running to achieve stillness in body and mind.

Through this heightened focus, the “running buddhas” can accomplish astonishing feats. Over a 100-day stretch, they cover 52.5 miles daily wearing handmade straw sandals and eating a vegetarian diet, with minimal consumption and, at times, while fasting. Recently, they were profiled in a documentary that highlights the spiritual aspect of long-distance running—3100: Run and Become.

Many ultrarunners share a common trait—the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances, which is the basis for many profound yogic philosophies that connect state-of-mind and perspective with inward bliss.

While there were many life-changing quotes in the Flow book that apply to running and Yoga alike, I will share only a few here:

  • We create ourselves by how we invest our energy
  • Attention shapes the self, and is in turn shaped by it
  • To improve life one must improve the quality of experience
  • The meaning of life is meaning: Whatever it is, wherever it comes from, a unified purpose is what gives meaning to life

As for me, my sangha—spiritual community—at Yogaville has changed my life. I am deeply grateful to all the beautiful people who have inspired me during my sacred times at the Ashram.

I have been visiting the Ashram for many years and each visit has opened my eyes and my heart in unique and meaningful ways. For me, Yogaville is magical. From the early morning hour of Brahma (Brahma muhurta) to the starry sky overhead at night, this place breathes love and peace. It is unlike any other place in the world. With all the tragedy, chaos, and confusion in the world, Yogaville is a reminder of the beauty and majesty that exists within the crevasses of our hearts that call to us to draw inward, go deeper, keep going…

I am thrilled for this opportunity to honor and respect Gurudev, my sangha, and the Ashram through this moving meditation.

Peace, love, joy to all. Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

About the Author:

Tracy Cooley is a certified 200-hour Yoga teacher, registered with the Yoga Alliance, and received her training at the Sun and Moon Yoga Studio in Arlington and Fairfax, Virginia. Her Yoga path began at Yogaville in Buckingham, Virginia and she continues to visit the Ashram frequently and work with staff by providing pro-bono consulting services. In addition, she is the East Coast Coach for the Lupus Foundation of America and also offers private coaching sessions. Tracy received her running coach certification through the Road Runners Clubs of America . Over the last twenty years, she’s completed several dozen road and trail marathons and ultramarathons (distances greater than 26.2 miles). Her approach is centered on strengthening the mind-body-spirit connection to improve overall well-being, boost performance and increase awareness. More here at her blogsite:  “Start with Om.”