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The Zen of Running – or, why jogging is not completely stupid…

Publication date: Oct 21, 2008 9:50:39 AM

Jogging is not the mindless, stupid activity that some people claim, but is actually closely associated with the act of meditative thought, according to UCL academic Dr Alan Latham. Speaking today at a UCL Lunch Hour Lecture in London, Dr Latham will defend jogging from the popular stereotypes directed at it, examining the history of jogging and the relationship between physical activity and thought.

“There is an orientation – I should probably more properly say a prejudice – towards sustained physical recreation and activity that is deep seated in much of European intellectual culture. It is the intensity, and single-minded focus on physical activity, that is the problem”, says Dr Latham, UCL Geography, in his talk, ‘The Zen of Running’.

“In June 2007, soon after the election of the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, a debate broke out in the French media about their new president's jogging habit. The philosopher Alain Finkielkraut claimed that Western civilization in its best sense, was ‘born with the promenade’, that ‘walking is a sensitive, spiritual act’, whereas jogging is purely ‘management of the body and ‘nothing to do with meditation.’ The daily newspaper Libération also pondered ‘Le jogging est-il de droite?’ (Is jogging right wing?).

“If you consider this argument a little more closely it is disturbing. It suggests that at some – quite low – threshold of physical activity the mind somehow shuts down and loses its vital capacity for critical, complex, or indeed profound thought. It also suggests that what people who engage in intense physical activity such as jogging or running are in some sense after is a brute thoughtlessness.”

Dr Latham will chart the history of jogging from its roots as a means of the middle classes avoiding cardiovascular problems, to its emergence as a mass fitness activity in the 1960s and 1970s when, he will claim, it was “closely associated with its ability to engender all sorts of new ways of thinking.”

“Jogging boomed not because it was seen as the best insurance against heart disease (although that helped), but because running and jogging allowed people to think about, and relate to, their body and their minds in all sorts of surprising new ways.”

“Running makes a reconnection with physical effort and the weighty-ness of the world. It can be seen as a means of rediscovering our inner nature and it can be a means of thinking, and meditating. It is an inherently thoughtful rather than thoughtless act.”

-Ends-

Notes for Editors

1.) Journalists wishing to arrange an interview with Dr Alan Latham, should contact Ruth Metcalfe in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9739, mobile: +44 (0)7990 675 947, out of hours: +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: r.metcalfe@ucl.ac.uk

2.) ‘The Zen of Running’, UCL Lunch Hour Lecture is on Tuesday 21st October 2008 at 1.15pm in the Darwin Lecture Theatre, Darwin Building, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT. Entry is free and open to everyone, with places allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, go to: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lhl/