Tibetan “Trance Runners” Cover Hundreds of Miles With Ease


At Embark, we’re always impressed by anybody who pushes their comfort zone to have an adventure. For some people, that might just mean hiking way up in the local hills. For others, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro might be a major undertaking. Yet others may need to trek in Ladakh or climb a peak in Nepal.

But what if, by intense mental and physical training, people are able to adjust their comfort level and abilities dramatically upwards? What if they can actually transcend what’s considered “normal” human endurance?

Apparently, there are some who have done so. We read with fascination this article from Bhutan’s national newspaper, describing what it called Lung Gompa (wind runners) or Kang jor pas (fast walkers). Westerners who have looked into it call them the less-romantic “trance runners,” and the last school teaching it is in Tibet. According to the article, there are at most three monks left in Bhutan who can attain these feats.

Heinrich Harrer, author of Seven Years in Tibet, visited one such school, according to the paper:

Harrer describes the school as an exclusive one, restricted only to a few chosen students, who are trained in complete isolation.  They did numerous exercises, “built up their leg muscles by running on a pile of grain, while strict teachers provide the mental training”.

It was the tradition of the monastery to choose the ablest of them all to represent the school.  This monk had to prove to be mentally very strong, and physically able to run long distances.

Unlike the Japanese Sen-nichi-kaihou, the Tibetan monks had to run for relatively short distances.  Harrer mentions how the monk had to run for ‘hundred or more kilometres to Lhasa without food, drink or rest’.

Apparently the true masters must prove their status by running as much as 8,400 kilometers in 100 days! We’ll spare you reaching for the calculator: that would be about 52 miles per day for 100 days.

The story explains the theory thusly:

Esoteric Buddhism radically reinterprets the journey of the spiritual enlightenment.  It assumes that everybody is capable of embarking on this great journey, but our weak psychological and unclear sensory foundations delay or prevent us from experiencing this bliss.

So, we’re not really up  for 50-mile days, but we do believe in “mind over matter,” and we definitely believe that getting out for an adventure such as climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro helps us stretch our minds and bodies, and perhaps move towards enlightenment.

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