The Lung-Gom-Pa Runners of Old Tibet
Experience the mystery behind an ancient Buddhist practice
Illustration by Jeremy Collins
Getting ready for a trail race? Try this for your training:
- Seclude yourself in a remote cave for three years.
- Spend most of your time practicing breathing exercises and chanting Buddhist mantras.
- Practice leaping upward from a cross-legged sitting position without using your hands. Repeat ad infinitum.
- Return to the world three years later, light as a feather, in a heightened state of consciousness.
- Run vast distances. Win races. (Known side effect: By this point in your training, the act of winning will have become meaningless to you).
Such was the training practice of the lung-gom-pa runners of pre-westernized Tibet. According to legend, lung-gom-pa runners could run for 48 hours without rest and cover 200 miles in a single day. To achieve this super-human level of endurance, lung-gom-pa runners underwent intensive spiritual training. Their goal, however, was not to win races, but to pursue spiritual enlightenment, similar to the Marathon Monks of Japan (see Issue 19, March 2003).
Lung (pronounced rlun) signifies air and vital energy, or prana as the yogis would call it. Gom means meditation or focused concentration. A lung-gom-pa, therefore, is someone who has mastered the art of harnessing their spiritual energy through focused meditation and conscious breathing, thus transcending the physical limits of the body.
By the time Westerners trickled into remote Tibet, in the early 20th century, lung-gom-pa training was only conducted in two monasteries: Nyang-to Kyi-phug (near Shigatse) and Samding. Lama Anagarika Govinda, a German-born Buddhist monk, visited the Nyang-to Kyi-phug monastery on his travels through Tibet in 1947. He described the training process of a lung-gom-pa in detail in his memoir The Way of the White Clouds.