A Way of Running, and a Way of Living

I’ve been studying for the past few months to prepare for the Chi Running/Walking instructor certification course that I attended for four days, this past weekend. If you’re not familiar with Chi Running/Walking technique, it was created by Danny Dreyer, and it is a way to run more efficiently, and with less injury. In contrast to conventional running, in Chi Running, you cooperate with the force of gravity, and you lift your ankles, rather than propelling yourself forward with the small muscles, and tendons of your lower legs, and feet. I was attracted to Chi Running for the promise of efficiency, less injury, and the aspect of the mind/body connection that it seemed to involve. Attending the course this weekend, I expected to deepen my knowledge of the material, and improve my teaching skills, but I had no idea just how impactful the class would be.

Danny has created Chi Running/Walking classes so that they are taught in a logical progression that creates opportunities for participants to “get it,” or experience what he refers to as ah-ha moments.  I had one of these while we were learning how to run gradual down hills. One of the key points of the lesson is to be so relaxed that you actually allow the road passing under you to swing your legs back for you, rather than using your own muscles, and energy. As I was proceeding down the hill, I could sense my legs flying out behind me, and it felt as if I was floating above the pavement, and not even working a muscle. I was definitely in control of my speed, and could’ve stopped if needed, but it seemed that I had totally lost control of my legs. I instantly had the feeling that I must’ve done it wrong. How could it be so effortless? How could just letting my body relax and “go with the flow” be ok? When I asked the instructor, she assured me that I had achieved the desired result, and that I’d just experienced an “ah-ha” moment. I was elated! A few times throughout the rest of the day, I referred back to that moment, and how awesome it felt. Before falling asleep that night, something clicked in my mind, and I realized that, for me, Chi Running is an analogy for life. Here’s why:

1.Lead with Your Dantien – In Chi Running, instead of propelling yourself forward, you lead with your lower dantien, and move forward in a controlled fall. Originating from Eastern philosophies, your lower dantien, is located below your navel, and is a center of qi or life force energy, and the foundation of rooted standing, breathing and body awareness. Acting from your dantien is considered to be related to higher states of awareness. So, in the same way that you should let your dantien lead you when you run, so should you let it lead you in your every day life; getting out of your head and into your body. I equate moving through life, by leading with your dantien, as letting your intuition and your truth guide your daily decisions, and actions, rather than just your reasoning.

2.Alignment – Alignment is one of the main principles of Chi Running, relaxation being the other one. A good demonstration of this is the Tai Chi principle of needle in cotton, which states that you need to have a strong, aligned centerline, or posture, the needle, surrounded by relaxation, your moving arms and legs. Posture is critical to Chi Running form, and it’s important to maintain a strong centerline, and an engaged core. When you do not have a strong centerline, you must put forth much more effort, thus you’re not as efficient, and you risk injury. From my perspective your centerline represents your beliefs, either in self, the universe or religion. Your center is a reference point you come back to when life tries to push you off balance. You need to check in regularly to ensure you are maintaining a strong, tall centerline.

3.Relaxation – As mentioned above, relaxation is essential to Chi Running. Focusing on relaxing the parts of the body that do not need to be actively engaged makes you more efficient, and enables you to cooperate with the force of the oncoming road. In life it can be tempting to try to control everything, most likely to feel a sense of certainty. However, it’s definitely a false sense of control, since many of us have experienced how life can drastically change our circumstances in the blink of an eye. Attempting to control everything creates resistances, keeps you tensed, doesn’t allow you to get out of your own way, and prevents you from achieving a state of “flow.” A good example of flow is those times when everything just seems to fall in to place without you having to control all the moving pieces.

4.Adapt to Conditions – Any runner can tell you that some days are more challenging than others. Our physical state, and also the terrain can be factors that require you to adapt. In Chi Running, the focus isn’t to merely push through unpleasant or challenging conditions, but to find ways adapt them in order to get through them in the best way possible. An appropriate quote comes to mind, “don’t go through it, grow through it.”

5.Upward Focus – Another aspect that differentiates Chi Running from conventional running is the focus of lifting the ankles rather than pushing off the ground with the feet. This change in focus enables you to exert less energy, and be lighter on your feet. Another upward focus of Chi Running is the tall posture, extending up through the crown of the head, which is a counterbalance to the downward pull of gravity. In today’s society, there is an abundance of negativity from the media, pulling us down, and it almost seems you have to make an effort to find positive things to focus on. Focusing on the negative will make you feel heavy, while focusing on the positive will help you to feel lighter, and use less energy.

So from a weekend workshop where I expected to learn a new way of running, I actually learned a new way of living. This is what a wise friend of mine refers to as “back door enlightenment.” Long may you run!