Running is Easier Than You Think
Many of the emails we get from satisfied ChiRunners usually come with a note of surprise at how easy it is to run when you learn how to do it right. Here's a message we recently received:
“As for the feeling of effortlessness (with ChiRunning®), I tend to view it as “the body running itself”. There is still physical effort, but I don’t seem to be doing anything, my body takes over and all I have to worry about is staying relaxed.” – Clark
In the title of the ChiRunning® book we make the promise of, "Effortless, Injury-free Running." The less effort, the less injury! The more I teach, the more I can get people to use less effort while running. Our clients are experiencing running without the normal feeling of pushing or pulling or straining to move their body forward. As with any change in your movement patterns, it takes some effort up front to get to that place of relaxation on your own… But the feeling of effortlessness is worth it!
Believe it or not, getting ChiRunning students to effort less is much harder than getting them to effort more. Most people get caught up in trying so hard, they forget that the endgame is to try less. If you want your running to be effortless, you have to be willing to do less, physically that is. And, you have to also be willing to focus your mind a little more while allowing your body to relax.
A great place to begin is to become aware of how, and where, you hold stress and tension in your body. Do a body scan right now, and see if you can feel any places you’re holding tension. Then, rather than trying to make it go away, take a few minutes and experience the tension. Notice how it feels; are any muscles burning, gripping or just hard like a rock? Rather than try to change the tension, just get a feel for where it is and what it feels like to hold it. It might release or it might dig in its heels. That’s OK.
There is a subtlety to ChiRunning® that requires the focus of the mind. When you practice paying attention to your body in the way I just described you’ll get better at feeling the nuances of efforting; when it’s too much and when it’s just right. For instance, to improve your posture you want to lift through the back of the neck, up through the crown of the head, but you don’t want to force it or you'll feel stiff. There should be a lightness to the straightening, an airiness between your vertebrae, not a stretching or straining, but a gentle lifting. There is still an effort, but it is more of an, “if you please” rather than a demand. And when practiced with a gentle nudging rather than force, you might notice your breath flowing more easily, more deeply.
Every run you do should always begin with good posture and running with a very, very short stride. Just let yourself fall gently forward - no speed, and with as little effort as possible, except for maintaining good posture.
As with most runners, because your legs are used to working, it will be hard for them to stop efforting. Like a person who has worked the same job for 50 years, the first weeks and months of retirement might be bewildering. It is hard work to stop using the calves and the muscles in the feet in the same old way you always have. They’re used to engaging. They’re used to carrying a lot of the load. Even if they’re in pain, they want to do their part. But now the effort needs to shift… away from your legs and more towards your core and your mind. That begins with the effort of awareness, which is actually split between two very important areas of your body.
The first place to shift your attention to is your dantien, your center of mass and the center of your being (according to the T’ai Chi Masters). When you have the urge to effort, gather all that energy into this energy center that is just below your navel and in toward your spine. When you run, you should sense your dantien falling just slightly ahead of where you feel your feet touching the ground.
The second place to shift your attention is to your legs; not to engage them, but instead, to relax them so you can move down the road freely, with no restriction or propulsion coming from your legs. Just relax everything below your waist and you'll begin to feel that effortless feeling we're talking about. So, as it turns out, as you begin to build in that sense of moving from your dantien, you'll find yourself relying less and less on your legs for propulsion.
You can make your running easier, prevent injury and go farther (and maybe faster) with much less effort.