Sanjay Rawal On Running As Spiritual Practice

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“Running unites us. At one point, every culture on Earth relied on running. It’s baked into our DNA.”

Sanjay Rawal


Most contemplate running as exercise. A physical practice we reluctantly endure. An uncomfortable discipline we tolerate for the sake of fitness. For weight loss. Or to competitively measure ourselves against ourselves and others.

Running is about metrics. Pace maintained. Distance covered. Calories burned. Energy expended. And results quantified.

But ask Sanjay Rawal and he’ll tell you that definition isn’t just limited — it misses the point altogether.

Running is so much more than podiums and aesthetics. At its core, it’s a most primal activity that unites us all. It’s about growth. It’s about self-understanding. And for many cultures dating back millennia, it’s about spiritual growth. Survival. Healing. And even transcendence.

Running as devotion.

Today Sanjay and I explore this theme in a riveting conversation focused on the inherent and indelible power of this shared human experience to better understand ourselves, our environment and the unseen world.

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A graduate of U.C. Berkeley with a B.A. in Molecular & Cell Biology and Neurobiology, Sanjay was on the fast track to a career in medicine when he began to question his path, seeking answers and solace in meditation. This quest led to becoming a devoted student of Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual teacher based in New York. What followed is life committed to spiritual expansion. And a calling to improve the collective human condition.

Sanjay spent a decade in human rights philanthropy before realizing he could deepen his impact by turning a lens on cultures and communities worthy of notice. Hence was born a career in documentary filmmaking. Sanjay’s oeuvre includes Ocean Monk, Challenging Impossibility, and Food Chains, which takes a hard look at migrant farm labor exploitation.

Sanjay’s latest offering, and the focus of today’s conversation, is 3100: Run and Become. A behind-the-scenes immersion into the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race — the world’s most elusive and elite, multi-day running race. Held annually around one utterly unremarkable half-mile urban sidewalk block in Queens, New York, it demands competitors to complete at least 59 miles daily for 52 straight days.

The goal? Not glory, but rather the promise of personal expansion and a deeper sense of self.

The film also explores the historic and current relationship between running and spirituality through intimate visits with the Marathon Monks of Japan’s Mt. Hiei; the persistence hunters of Africa’s Kalahari tribe; and Arizona’s Navajo Nation.

The act of running to transform oneself is as old as time. Ancient man and woman ran not just for survival, but to connect with Nature and the Divine.

This is a conversation that explores this essential truth.

Because to run is to be human.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this very special exchange with a truly remarkable man. And make a point of seeing the movie.

Peace + Plants,

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Thanks to this week’s sponsors:

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SHOW NOTES

Watch the Official Trailer for 3100 here

Visit 3100: Run And Become to learn more & find a screening in your area

Background, Context & Reference:

Other Films By Sanjay Rawal

Notable People Discussed:

  • Sri Chinmoy: was an Indian spiritual leader who taught meditation in the West after moving to New York City in 1964; advocated a spiritual path to God through prayer and meditation. He advocated athleticism including distance running and formed The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team in 1977
  • Ashprihanal Aalto: Finnish ultramarathon runner, member of The Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, devotee and one of the main characters in 3100: Run and Become
  • Shaun Martin: Navajo teacher and running coach, created the Canyon de Chelly Ultramarathon to help share the beauty and history of this sacred site
  • Shamita Achenbach-König: professional cellist, ultra runner and The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race runner
  • Scott Jurek: One of the greatest ultrarunners of all time, multiple world-record holder and best-selling author
  • Ted Corbitt: long-distance runner, New York Road Runners founder. Corbitt is often called “the father of long distance running.”
  • Fred Lebow: was a runner, race director, and founder of the New York City Marathon and led New York Road Runners
  • Jim Fixx: authored the 1977 best-selling book The Complete Book of Running*. He is credited with helping start America’s fitness revolution, popularizing the sport of running
  • Stu Mittleman: ultradistance running champion, as well as a fitness/running coach and author. Mittleman set three consecutive American 100-Mile Road Race records in the US National Championships 1980–1982
  • Sri Aurobindo: was an Indian philosopher, yogi, guru, poet, and nationalist. He joined the Indian movement for independence from British rule
  • Jiddu Krishnamurti: was an Indian philosopher, speaker and writer. In his early life he was groomed to be the new World Teacher but later rejected this mantle and withdrew from the Theosophy organization behind it
  • Paramahansa Yogananda: was an Indian yogi and guru, author of Autobiography of a Yogi*  which is on the list of the “100 best spiritual books of the 20th Century”
  • Kobe Oren: first Israeli to run The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, and is now ranked 12th world-wide in the event
  • Rob Krar: endurance athlete and coach focused wholly on a healthy running lifestyle and extending mental and physical limitations
  • Clare Gallagher: ultrarunner, trailrunner and brand ambassador for Patagonia and The North Face
  • Krissy Moehl: ultramarathon athlete who specializes in trail running. youngest woman to complete the Grand Slam of Ultra running
  • Michael Wardian: marathoner and ultra-marathoner, multiple world record holder
  • Camille Herron: long distance runner, multiple ultramarathon world record holder
  • Timothy Olson: ultrarunner,  two-time winner and previous record holder of Western States 100 Mile race
  • Lewis Tewanima: was Hopi Indian and an American two-time Olympic distance runner and silver medalist in the 10,000 meter run in 1912
  • Billy Mills: also known as Makata Taka Hela, is a Native American former track and field athlete who won a gold medal in the Olympic Games

Related Podcasts You Might Enjoy:

Thanks to Michael A. Levine for this week’s interstitial tracks: “History Film“ and “Tomorrow’s Desciple” (from 3100: Run And Become). Thanks to Jason Camiolo for audio engineering, production and show notes. Video, editing and graphics by Margo Lubin and Blake Curtis. Reece Robinson for portraits and photos. Theme music by Ana Leimma. Sponsor relationships by David Kahn.

*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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