How one LA runner is bringing mindfulness to an entire community
Mention mindfulness or meditation to some people and you’ll likely see a scrunched up face or a look that says ‘you know, that’s not really my thing’.
But here it is: mindfulness is everyone’s thing. At its most basic, mindfulness is simply allowing yourself to be fully present and committing to the moment.
LA runner, buddhist, and Tai chi practitioner Hakim is sharing his wealth of knowledge on mindfulness and meditation with his crew Koreatown Run Club.
We met with Hakim at his LA home to learn about his journey in life, where running fits into that, and how meditation has improved both.
"I found running probably 6 years ago. I was on a weight loss kick and I remember my wife at the time saying 'you know, you should try running'. I hated running, so I used to run with music. It would get me through a mile or 2 and then I would get bored.
I stuck at it, and bit by bit I started seeing some changes, and then I was like ‘oh shit, OK! This does work’. So I stuck with it. 1 mile turned into 2 and kept it there for a while.
Then I got into barefoot running and that’s when I started to figure out the science of running. As time progressed I started seeing physical changes but also my mind state changing, and then I started hearing things. I started listening to things like Stic’s ‘The Workout’ album, which was very hip hop, running, sort of inspired. There were a few albums like that at that time which inspired me.
That was the genesis of my connection to running.
Then I went through a divorce.
That was when things got heavy for me, and when the real science of running started for me".
"Running got me through my darkest days. I would put on whatever I was feeling at the time, and it would be anything from Marvin Gaye, to Bernard Spear, to Fela Kuti, I would just put some music on and go.
It gave me a chance to channel a different avenue, and not think about what was going on at the time. I already had heavy shit going on in my life, I don't need to be thinking about it while im running!
When I was really starting to understand meditation, I would compartmentalise while I was running. So I would be thinking ‘ok, what am I doing to better myself?’ and then it would turn into a series of ‘well if I did this, I could achieve that, which helps here’ and I would compartmentalise it all while I ran.
As the rest of my life got heavier and deeper, running was the catalyst for the transofrmation in my life that got me to where my life is now".
Every runner can relate to stories of using the run to clear your mind or to work through issues that may be troubling you. In life's pivotal moments, something as simple and primal as running can be so much more.
"Running took me to some places where I had to qusetion myself. And I didnt understand running like I do now. Back then when I was doing my little 2-3 miles, running gave me time to escape from the drama in my life. I had just gone through the divorce, everything was crumbling around me, and running was the escape. It took me to places where I felt like I could space travel for 30-40 minutes.
I would put my headphones on and just go. I had no idea where I was going, I just went".
"Metaphorically I was both running away from my problems through running, and through meditating on my runs I was really running towards my future. I felt like I was running to a light.
Damn, that’s some deep shit!"
Hakim grew up in Ipswich, Suffolk, a town around 80 miles north east of London. He moved to New York City in the '90's before settling for a number of years in Austin, Texas.
From there he spent time in Orlando, Florida before moving to Los Angeles in early 2017.
It was here he found balance and excelled in his meditation practices, and through this experienced growth in all aspects of his life.
"In May 2017 I decided to run the LA marathon. I was 40lbs heavier than I am now, I had a knee injury, and had been in LA for only a couple of months. I was getting wild, experiencing everything I could in LA, and I wasn’t running.
My girl and I went into overdrive with our meditation, like real heavy. And I created this cleanse. After 40 days I decided to go running. And maybe two weeks later I said to my friend who I had been cleansing with ‘let’s do the marathon’ and he was in straight away.
As my meditation practice got stronger and my spiritual practice got stronger, my running got stronger. At that time it was when I was really fusing my mindfulness practice into meditation thoughts on running".
"And that was what became the genesis of my marathon training. Mindfulness and running and really being in tune with that. And in a way, kick starting a mission to help bring mindfulness to running and show people some new shit for running!
The power of it is amazing. It turned me from somebody who didn't have a lot of self worth, and I found something I was good at, and through buddhism I found something that I love.
If you combine something that you love with something that you're good at and bring them together, it's what we call an auspicious moment in time".
When Hakim got back into running, it was another chance to immerse himself in the city he was so drawn to when he first moved to LA.
One person's paradise is another one's prison, and while Hakim says New York City was not his pace, it's clear that LA is where he is meant to be.
"When I came to LA I had no idea what I was going to find. I didn't have any friends here. I had colleagues and the buddhist community, but otherwise I would come home from work everyday to my girl and my kid, and then I would go running.
I ran with a few crews, I did some Blacklist runs, and those are huge, they have a couple hundred runners show out on a Monday!
Koreatown Run Club always caught my eye. I had heard about them, the neighbourhood is right down the street. So I thought I would give it a shot.
Then around the time of Breaking2 there was this Nike event on called Breakthrough LA, this 5k event. So I showed up for that, and I met some great people who were all telling me ‘come out to KRC’. Like 10 people separately were telling me, everyone I was chopping it up with were like ‘yo when are you going to come run with us?’, so I did, and they embraced me from the start".
"Probably a month after I started running with KRC I really clicked with Duy and Mike (the founders of KRC). They knew I was deep into mindfulness and meditation and they asked me to bring some of that to KRC.
One of my biggest things has been spreading awareness to black bodies in run culture, so having a voice for that was exciting, but then to add the spiritual element and to get more people involved in that was dope".
"Mike and Duy are some smart motherfuckers. They recognised what mindfulness can bring to running.
To have 100 people doing meditation on a Monday night in the middle of Koreatown is really powerful"
"A lot of people in KRC knew I taught Tai chi every Saturday after the runs in my garden. Some knew I was Buddhist as well, so when Duy and Mike told the group that I would start doing some meditation at the runs, people got it straight away and were receptive to it.
I had been preaching the gospel of mindfulness and running, and people were definitely intrigued by it.
To see quality runners drop any ego and embrace the mindfulness exercises, that’s really powerful"
"I can only imagine where it's going to go from here. We’ve had people from run crews all around the world experience what we do, and that’s powerful and humbling.
I give thanks. Running gives me joy, and being able to share the power of mindfulness gives me joy"
LA is a city where, at least for Hakim, you will receive back what you put out into the world. Being receptive to new culture and approaching his move to LA with a desire to embrace the city, the city has embraced him back.
I was fortunate to attend a run with KRC and to take part in Hakim's mindfulness exercises. In a busy parking lot in Koreatown, which is a gritty neighbourhood to say the least, around 100 runners stood in silence, participating in Hakim's exercises designed to empower and enrich our run.
"I'm hoping that people are getting a sense of self journey. When you have to shut down the walls of the eyes and go into self for just 5 minutes, it’s going to change a lot about you.
In that 5 minutes I can re-create somebody's whole universe. That's nothing to take lightly or to be cocky about.
For that 5 minutes they have tuned into their breath and their inner self and their psyche, and they’re more conscious of their breath, their stride, their cadence. They’re focussed".
"There is no ego at KRC. We have doctors, lawyers, martial artists, teachers, and we all run in the same crew and we all love each other.
I can only imagine where it's going to go from here. We’ve had people from run crews all around the world experience what we do, and that’s powerful and humbling.
I feel so fortunate and I give so much gratitude to be part of this crew. To say we are a family is an understatement".
After meeting Hakim a couple of times and sitting down with him in his home to understand more about his outlook, I'm taken by his clarity of thought and his gratitude for where he is.
I've said it before, but often we get caught up in what isn't going well (I'm guilty of this) and forget to enjoy the simple pleasure of running, which for most of us is why we started in the first place.
Hakim is one of a small but growing number of advocates for mindfulness in running, and the running community of LA is lucky to have him.