Last year I ran without my iPod on any runs under five miles. Since headphones are against the rules in triathlons I thought it would be good to make sure I wasn't depending on the music too much. But I always had music for my long runs, because two hours of talking to myself didn't seem like fun.
Now here I am training for a half-marathon with no tunes to keep me company. And it's been great.
Yes, sometimes I talk to myself. Sometimes I even talk to myself out loud, which is okay, because I know I'm staying under the first VO2 threshold if I can still talk.
Other times I find myself counting my footfalls, like I count my breaths when I practice yoga. That's all I do - just counting, no thinking. Which is exactly what I've been trying to do in my yoga practice - just counting, no thinking.
Then there's the times when I stop counting and just run. My brain is doing nothing and a mile or two will go by without a thought. The sound of my footfalls fades into the background and there is absolute stillness. My body moves through that stillness without any instruction from me. The muscles know what they're doing anyway.
Am I meditating while I'm running? Maybe. Exercise science tells me that when my muscles are working hard there is less oxygen going to my brain. The parts of my brain that need to work - those parts that subconsciously make sure I keep going in the right direction and don't face-plant on the pavement - may be taking all of the limited resources available when my muscles are taxed, leaving nothing for random thoughts. That's not the same as sitting still, breathing easily, giving my brain plenty of fuel for thinking and then telling it not to. But the experience is the same.
Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah.
Yoga is settling the mind into silence.
(Yoga Sutras, 1.2)
The Sutras don't say I can't get there by counting my footfalls.