I grew up an obese couch potato. Walking up 4 flights of stairs to my classroom put me out of breath for a full 30 minutes. I was also a Ms. Snotty Nose.
Then how did I become so active?
I have a very unconventional answer here: Vipassana meditation, particulary the walking part. My mom had taken me to the meditation retreat at Ampawan Temple in Singburi, 2 hours away from Bangkok. (I grew up a canonical Buddhist, but I was never a religious person up until that point.)
My meditation master Luang Por Jarun said the walking meditation has 5 benefits according to the Buddhist canon:
- It increases endurance while traveling on foot.
- It increases persistence and perseverance
- It decreases illnesses
- It is good for the digestive system.
- It improves concentration during the sitting phase of the meditation so that we benefit more from the sitting meditation.
Right after my first session of walking meditation, the immediate change was that I was able to walk very far without getting exhausted.
I was nowhere near athletic at that point. Running still caused me to be out of breath. But I decided I would start running. The first day, I barely made it to 5 minutes, but I kept at it. Once that was easy, I increased it to 10 minutes. And I kept adding 5 minutes at a time until I could run for hours at a time.
While I no longer run as I prefer other forms of exercise, it provided a good endurance base for any other forms of physical activity that I took up later in life. Not only that, my body just likes to move. Staying in shape becomes a joyful practice rather than a chore.
I also experience better digestion, especially after a large lunch, and many of my persistent illnesses disappeared.
I don’t have scientific evidence to support my claims here, just personal experience. But this is also a wisdom that has been known among Buddhists for more than 2,500 years. More and more now, we are starting to understand how these traditional wisdoms are beneficial to our health through scientific studies.
And lastly, I am a prime example that endurance, persistence, perseverance and health can be trained. It’s not something I was born with. As a matter of fact, I still struggle with many aspects of my fitness and understand that fitness is a continuum.
The walking part of my practice is quite well demonstrated by Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu
This can be a faithless practice. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to benefit from the practice.
Buddha says there are 3 levels of learning.
- By hearing or reading
- By contemplating or thinking
- By doing
The fact that level 3 is better than level 2 and level 1 is why the practice seems so simple it’s almost silly. That’s also why my teacher doesn’t teach much theory and details, as he wants us to focus on our practice. If he teaches us all the theories, we won’t get pass level 1. The most important thing is to experience it.
I feel like I am far from qualified to be teaching Buddhism or even this practice, but I know how this can benefit so many people. Also, the purpose of this post is mainly fitness rather than to preach religious teachings. Feel free to ask questions about this practice below.