February 28, 2011

T'ai Chi + Running = A more mindful me

A few weeks ago, I went out to Western MA for a Chi Running workshop that I signed up for after reading Chi Running by Danny and Katherine Dreyer.

So what is Chi and what the heck does it have to do with running?  

"Chi is life giving energy that unites body, mind and spirit"

Basically, Danny and his mentors realized that the principles of T'ai Chi are true universal laws and can be applied to anything including running. 

As I read the book, the first third actually had nothing to do with running form, but more about the principles of T'ai Chi; the Four Chi-Skills: 
  • Focusing your Mind
  • Body Sensing
  • Breathing
  • Relaxation
By taking these simple skills and really tune in...it becomes a very mindful and meditative practice. We use our minds and spirits to strengthen our core - physical, mental and spiritual core.  

Once we discussed the Chi-Skills, then towards the middle of the book, all the principles of T'ai Chi were applied in a practical sense to help us run without injury.  This is based on using our center, our core to propel us forward rather than our muscles.   Relaxing our muscles and using our ligaments and tendons to do the work and not our muscles. More like a controlled fall rather than a push off with the back leg and break with the front leg. It seems strange but once I realized that by using gravity rather than pushing with my back legs, then running is so much easier. Even uphill!  I fall uphill!  Really!  It is all about form.  And it starts with my mind.  

For a simplified explanation of the form side of Chi Running, check this out: 

Just before reading this book, I had been reading a lot of Thich Nhant Hahn and other Buddhist principles.  I couldn't *believe* how aligned these universal principles are.  After reading the book, I was psyched to go out an run and try out these new mad skills that I found.  I ditched the zune and tunes and started really listening to my body, mindful practice of running.  

But then life took over.  Self-doubt, time suckage, I just ran but wasn't sure if I was "doing it right" so I signed up for the workshop through www.healthylivingandlearning.com with Ryan Miller.

It was definitely worth it.  We did several exercises to show us how to use our core to run, how to focus on our midfoot strike and at the end of the workshop Ryan filmed us running and we were able to critique one another.  The one thing I wish I had done was filmed my self BEFORE the class so I could see the change.  What I can say is I have seen race photos of me with a definite heal strike, so it was nice to see this video with a more mid-foot strike and decent form.   I can also say, I am less injured than I was in November, ITB issues are pretty much gone and now I really listen and tune in to what is going on.  I have yet to run a long run with music ....Check that, the 1/2 marathon in the basement on the TM was with music.  I'm not THAT crazy yet!...Anyway, focusing has really helped me prevent issues and I really, really love running. 

I don't aways do this, but after taking the workshop, I sent them a little note.  They decided to publish it, but here it is:
I found Chi Running right at the perfect time in my life. I started running about a year ago, but quickly took each race and time as a goal rather than the journey. It was very much the way I was living my life. Reading the book and attending Ryan Miller's workshop was a turning point in my running, which aligned perfectly with the other transformations happening in my life at the same time.
My physical, spiritual, emotional and now running transformations all converged meeting at the same point. Living in the present moment, being mindful, and having a strong core - physically, emotionally & spiritually.
I like that I no longer compartmentalize my running to use as an escape, but to enhance my relationships, all my relationships in my life. ChiRunning alone did not do this, but ChiRunning and the universal laws that are present in ChiRunning can be applied everywhere.
Thank you Katherine, for your work, for Danny's work and for being open to this balance. It is funny because I think many runners find you (like me) with injuries looking for quick fixes. "Help me change my form." But leave with, "Wow, this is a paradigm shift." There's a click, like solving a rubics cube. It no longer becomes about running or form but about life. Truly profound, especially when we runners can become so narcissistic and self-absorbed. 
Thank you for reminding me that running, that life is a gift.
I highly recommend checking out the Chi Running Book and the Chi Running website.

Happy Running!


B said...

My doctor has an article about the Chi Running book on the wall in an exam room and I must have read it about 10 times. I've recently been thinking of this book and wanting to improve my form - you know sometimes while running I worry that I look like Elaine from Seinfeld trying to dance. I've realized recently that running has come into my life (literally in the last 3 months) when many other things in my life are in flux. Running is hard, scary, amazing, painful and wonderful all at once to me. I relish my runs and the high it gives me. It gives those days where everything seems to be going against me a light at the end.
Thanks for writing about the book. I can't wait to read it.

Christy Z. said...

@B, Thanks for reading! If you can, now is the perfect time to pick up the book, early on and when things are in flux. It helped me center so much. Check out their web page too, lots of good articles in the "Library"

Happy Running!

Tricia said...

Form is something I've really been focusing on lately. Thanks for sharing!