Learning to let go

Learning to let go

Heck, writing this blog has just stopped me in my tracks, ‘what does Chi Running mean to me? how has it influenced my life?’ was the topic I wanted to share. And for a second I thought I’d write ‘my 10k time PB is 10 minutes faster, my 5k time is 3 minutes faster, my half marathon time is down by 12 minutes’, but actually it is so much more. I’ve let ‘it’, the journey of Chi Running, develop over time, unlike most other things in my life which I tend to rush and want now, I kind of knew in the depths of my mind, the body and mind don’t change overnight, when finding Chi Running during my midst of injury I felt confident that this will be a journey, an interesting self-analysis.

I have been practicing Chi Running since I attended Jon Burdon’s workshop in 2014 and I have been teaching since the summer of 2016. Originally my practice was linked to my year of injury, shin splints and tight calves forcing me to walk on my toes, I knew my body needed to learn new habits, I knew running wasn’t painful, I knew I didn’t need new trainers. There was something screaming at me to listen, from the inside. It took, with my patience, some mental adjustments. To stop, to reassess, to allow myself to run only half a mile then three-quarters, to make a mental note of how my body felt (and forget about what was happening at work or my weekend plans), to truly pay attention to me.

You can do yoga too, engage your core, align from the crown of your head, use the forces of gravity but if your mind is not self-accepting, throwing you digs throughout the day, throughout your run, your energy will not flow.

I race competitively and my life is surrounded by running – books, social posts, a large group of friends, a race calendar, a training calendar, dinners, Park

I race competitively and my life is surrounded by running – books, social posts, a large group of friends, a race calendar, a training calendar, dinners, Park Run and coffee – the injury allowed me to justify dipping out of the running, I felt less guilty and other runners understood. But now I wish I had made the conscious effort to practice Chi Running before the injury took hold because I knew deep down my body could be more efficient – I knew after longer runs I didn’t need to wake up the next day unable to walk. All the lovely new clients I meet now who tell me this is the sole reason they are attending my workshops – to concentrate on me – just fills me with pride. Because social pressure can be tough, and our own self-pressure can be harsher. To explain to other runners that I was training to be a Chi Running instructor received some blank looks, the occasional smirk or dismiss, lots of explanation and also much appreciated support. For some of these reasons I kept it on the low, I wanted to ‘be the change’ and not force other runners to look at their technique. I am so passionate about looking after your body, inside and out, and so my journey continued…

By no means have I ‘nailed’ Chi Running, it really is a lifelong journey, and why would we ever want the ‘me time’ to end. I have, hand on heart, embedded the practice into every run I complete, I love having my mindful hints and tips stashed in my back pocket. Not all of my runs feel amazing, what I am learning now is my body has adapted and is slowly learning and it is changing how it moves me around life, but my mind is what holds me back.

What Chi Running has helped me to see, is how the mind and body can work together, we take it for granted but actually, our mind is telling us stories, stories which are not true, and our body responds to this.

I saw Chi Running as a physical technique, something quite tangible that you would see results from on your Garmin. So that was true, my performance has improved, my body recovers quicker. But what I didn’t expect was how it would lead me to learn so much more about myself. You can do yoga too, engage your core, align from the crown of your head, use the forces of gravity but if your mind is not self-accepting, throwing you digs throughout the day, throughout your run, your energy will not flow. Instead, you will create a blocker, mentally and physically. What Chi Running has helped me to see, is how the mind and body can work together, we take it for granted but actually, our mind is telling us stories, stories which are not true, and our body responds to this. Body sensing and gradual progression in a holistic sense – like every day, in everything we do – being kind to ourselves, internally, nutritionally, externally with rest and recovery, moving our bodies an inch at a time – this really generates a slow long-term lasting change within us. A positive calm mind, a positive relaxed aligned body. Inclusively strong.

So my Chi Running journey has begun, but only just, I’m going to continue to adapt my body, gently and generously, enjoying that freedom from the inside out, and being kind to myself, body sensing from head to toe, being positive and letting that energy flow; all of this gradually while working towards my running goals. I’d say Chi Running has allowed me to ‘be the change’ – learning to let go, mind and body, working simultaneously.


Kelly Knight

Kelly Knight

Kelly teaches Chi Running in the Midlands. For more details and to check out her upcoming workshops and guided trail runs click here to visit Kelly’s profile page.

An Introduction to Chi Running

An Introduction to Chi Running

I want to start with a visualisation – You’re heading out for a run, it’s a beautiful day, as you begin to run you feel strong, focused and relaxed. Your arms, legs, breath are all in sync. You have found your rhythm as your heels float up behind you. You feel like you are gliding over the ground, your running feels effortless and fluid, your breath is rhythmic and you feel like you could keep running like this forever… this is Chi Running at its best!

This is Chi Running for me, and I hope it will be Chi Running for you. I was introduced to the Chi Running technique six years ago by Master Instructor, Catherina McKiernan, at her Building the Foundations Workshop. She just blew my mind, it all sounded so logical and I knew straight away this was how I wanted to run.

What exactly is Chi Running?

The main objectives of Chi Running are energy efficiency, injury prevention, and to ensure running is a joyful experience. Now doesn’t that sound good? I think it’s safe to say we all want to be happy, efficient, injury free runners.

Chi Running is running with minimal effort, therefore helping to eliminate the hardship you often hear associated with running. Doing something you love shouldn’t be a hardship and, in my opinion, all runners should love to run!

By following the core principles of the Chi Running technique, achieving these objectives is a realistic goal for everyone.
The Principles of Chi Running are:

  • alignment and relaxation
  • central movement
  • cooperating with force
  • gradual progress
  • body sensing
  • a mindful approach

I’m just going to briefly talk about each one.

Alignment & relaxation

Proper postural alignment is the starting point to correct running form, this in partnership with relaxation is central to efficient and injury free running. Your body needs to be properly aligned and relaxed as you run.

Chi Running is inspired by the T’ai Chi visualisation of a ‘needle in cotton’, where the needle is the central rotational axis – from the crown of the head through the centre of the body – and the cotton is the balanced, relaxed, fluid movement of the arms and legs and the shoulders and hips. Good postural alignment is so important for spine and joint mobility, this affects you in everyday life, not just while out running.

Central movement

This teaches us to begin any movement from the body’s centre of mass as opposed to pushing forward with your legs, our ‘centre’ in terms of T’ai Chi and Chi Running is called the dantien. This is located about three finger widths down from the belly button and two inches in towards your spine. Visualise moving forward from this point allowing the lower body to follow in a relaxed fashion, focusing on the gentle engagement of the lower abdominal muscles. This keeps you balanced and stable as you move forward. Focus on the contralateral movement of the arms and legs (opposite arm to leg), finding your optimal cadence (170-180 strides per minute). As you run visualise gathering energy in your centre (Dantien) and then allowing the Chi to flow throughout the body, creating an effortless, fluid running form.

Cooperating with Force

We want to work with, not against, the force of gravity and the oncoming road. Relax into your run, with a slight lean from your ankles. This allows you to cooperate with gravity and use the oncoming road to your advantage. Relax your legs as your feet come in contact with the earth, allowing them to swing rearwards and your heels float up behind you.

You are cooperating with the forces that so many runners fight against. Run in a controlled forward fall, creating and maintaining forward momentum.

Gradual Progress

If you find you need to adapt your current running form to become a Chi Runner then this is the most important Chi Running principle for you. These changes must be subtle and happen gradually, trust me, patience is a Chi Runner’s number one virtue, but it’s absolutely worth it!

Gradual progress means you build on the foundations of the Chi Running principles, practice Chi Running drills, allow your body to embrace the concept of the Needle in Cotton, and give it the time it deserves to progress.

As each step is completed it lays the foundations for the next. It’s a lifelong skill so not to be rushed. I’m still learning and will always be gradually adapting and tweaking my technique, subtle changes can make a huge difference to your running technique.

It’s also so important to understand that progress is an individual thing. If you start your Chi Running journey with a running buddy or buddies, you will all progress at different rates, we are all different so our gradual progression will vary from runner to runner. Make sure you focus on your own form, your own cadence and breath, it’s a personal thing but, of course, still to be enjoyed together.

Body Sensing

This may sound a bit airy fairy, but it’s actually very important to keep you in good physical and mental shape as a runner. Body sensing trains us to be intuitive runners, to sense when we have good alignment, optimal cadence, window of balance and so on. It’s also about being aware of how your body feels, throughout the day, not just while out running. The key is to regularly check in with your posture, sensing any niggles or muscle tightness, before they become an issue or injury. This, then becomes a habit, a way of life so you develop a strong sense of awareness of your body. This ties in very much so with a mindful approach to running.

Mindful Approach

This is one of my favourite aspects of Chi Running, my mind/body connection is definitely in sync when I run, I am more aware of my posture and this is because I bring all the chi focusses together. I live in the moment when I run, allowing the clutter to filter away for that brief time out on the road… I can breathe, I can focus, I can relax!

As I said at the start, you hear all the time, runners saying what a hardship running can be. Chi Running, in my opinion, is the opposite of a hardship, it’s a joy!

It may seem there is a lot to take in initially, but it all comes together gradually by practising the Chi Running drills, working on all the key elements of the technique, like posture, balance, breath and cadence.

Ultimately, the true beauty of Chi Running is its simplicity. When it all comes together you reap the massive benefits of being a Chi Runner. Let the Chi flow and your running will flow too.

Emer O'Brien

Emer O'Brien

Emer is one of our newest Chi Running instructors based in Piltown, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. Check out Emer’s profile page for more information http://chirunning.uk/instructors/emer-obrien/

Skip your way to a lighter stride!

 

The principles of Chi Running are simple, they reflect how the human body is meant to behave and move. Chi Running works. Seven years in and counting, I have coached over 1000 folk and seen all sorts of runners. Some are performance orientated, some use running as a fitness enhancement, the word ‘Chi’ attracts folk who come from a T’ai Chi, martial arts or yoga background. Others simply want to feel lighter on their feet and just enjoy moving better.

Our bodies are wired to move, walk and run. Our foot has not changed in design for over 2.5 million years and 80% of all our proprioceptors are found in our feet and ankles (Kaminoff 2016). We are bipeds and, therefore, are balancing animals. However, our relationship with gravity is a tenuous one. You only need to travel on a ship in stormy waters for a few hours and then walk on dry land to feel the effects of our internal balancing system as we spin and loose balance. Controlling and refining our sense of balance takes some time. Gymnastics, skiing and activities that have a strong focus on balancing refine this awareness.

Running is also a balancing act. We are meant to move in balance, with grace and minimal effort. You only need to watch young children begin to make their first steps to see the awareness of balance grow in their eyes. Equally the range of movement (ROM) is also much more pronounced in young children and the vast majority of African runners you see running on TV. Most of the European runners who do make it across to Africa (McColgan for example) seem to have an optimal ROM in their hips, spine and trail leg. Their stride simply looks more controlled and relaxed. Steve Cram often refers to the African athletes as ‘relaxed, balanced and rhythmical’.

A few of my runners travelled to Africa (Kenya, Iten and Ethiopia, Addis Ababa) and trained with some of the running schools. They came back amazed that they found it so difficult to perform the skipping drills the African runners practised repeatedly. Recently I’ve been incorporating some of these African skipping drills into my practice. Why not have a try yourself perhaps you’ll note a sense of additional power through relaxation and speed with ease.

These drills are not the only things that the athletes do of course, a typical day in an African school would be awake at 6am, do some yoga for an hour and then the am session. Breakfast followed by sleep and rest. Then the pm session would be either light running or these skipping drills.

The above clip gives an overview of attitudinal change that perhaps we should all consider. Note the amazement expressed by Eamonn Coghlan (Irish runner and world champion in the 70s) as he compares the difference in attitude towards running ‘hard track sessions’ to ‘over here it is to be relaxed about their running’. This point is picked up in Matt Fitzgerald’s book 80/20 (2015) and also the Nike project to try to beat the sub 2 hour marathon!

Note the side to side shuffle drill. The teaching points are the knees are not being driven up, they are moving forward because their centre is ahead of their ankles. They are moving in dynamic equilibrium. However, I am aware of the slight ball of foot placement, but when they begin to change the side to side drill to running (tiny strides!) the foot landing is, in almost all cases, mid foot. Note also just how high the arms are, the elbows are at about 90 degrees, there seems to be a strong focus on the use of arms and elbows in Africa. In the book by Toby Tanser (More Fire 2012), there is the statement ‘use your hips and elbows when you run’. Really such a simple statement but underneath that is the realisation that the body connects and where we run from is not where we think or perceive.

I would stress that this drill is performed by the likes of David Rudisha on the regular basis as well as all the other athletes in the training camps. In my workshops I always state ‘if David Rudisha does it, we do it’ Sometimes this drill is performed followed by 30 minutes easy running and that is it!

 

This video shows drills taken from Ethiopia. You need to build up to these and go carefully but note the range of motion in the hips particularly. The emphasis on rhythm and lightness of feet. In the off season these drills last for about two hours. You can start on about 15 minutes/week and build to two sessions of about 30 minutes and see how you feel. One more thing – they work!

A deeper and more connected life

A deeper and more connected life

Mindfulness is a word that is batted around in every other magazine article nowadays but it’s really very simple, and you’re probably doing it anyway.

What do I love most about Chi Running? I think it’s that it is a holistic practice – so much more than just a running technique. The skill of stopping yourself in your tracks and resetting your alignment becomes something you do all day, every day. And what’s more this is not just a physical thing but a mental, emotional, even spiritual practice too.

Mindfulness is a word that is batted around in every other magazine article nowadays but it’s really very simple, and you’re probably doing it anyway. Focussing your mind on just one part of your body, or on your breath, or on the ground beneath you are all great ways to become a connected, more relaxed runner. Learning to simplify our thoughts and focus on one element of our movement is a great way to reduce stress.

If you have been working on your Chi Running technique for some time or just a few days I’d encourage you to explore the body sensing skills that are discussed in the Chi Running book. Make a body scan part of your daily routine. Scan your body from head to toe and get a sense for what it is telling you. I’d suggest including your feelings and emotions within this scan as well – they can tell you a lot about how your run is going to go! The Chi Walking book is also a fabulous starting point for this journey, full of exercises to help you connect mind and body.

If you have worked with an instructor they have no doubt given you some ‘form focusses’ to work on. Use a form intervals approach to work on these. To run form intervals, you focus your mind entirely on the one small aspect of your form for an interval of about one minute. After that you give yourself a break mentally before coming back for another repetition. This is a great way to build on the physical components of Chi Running and start to work more on the mental aspects. Be non judgemental and just observe yourself. If your focus wanders, just make a note that has happened and then allow your mental focus to return to the chosen focus.

Yes, Chi Running can help make you a better runner. Yes, Chi Running can help prevent injury, but if the physical component is all you get from it I personally think you’re missing out. What do I love most about Chi Running? It can lead you to a deeper and more connected life – all day and every day.

Jon Burdon

Jon Burdon

Jon is a qualified teacher who has been exploring and sharing the great outdoors with others for over 20 years. He has a holistic philosophy and believes a relaxed, natural technique, together with a mind-body approach to running can enhance your whole life. He is proud to present a very special Mindful Fitness Day, Saturday 24 June (with an optional trail run on the Sunday) in the beautiful Holme Valley. Here the teaching of Chi Running is blended with that of mindfulness and yoga.

Area: Huddersfield and West Yorkshire, Peak District, Snowdonia, Lake District, Manchester, Shropshire.

New Year – New You?

New Year – New You?

Reading this and thinking about some kind of change to your health and fitness in the new year? There’s a lot to be said for a ‘kickstart’ to the new year. It’s good to take back control of drinking and eating – this can help re-programme the body and its cravings. When it comes to fitness, what works for one person may not with the next. We all know that gym memberships peak in January. Good fitness intentions often don’t last. In this spirit, I’ll share how Chi Running has transformed my own fitness, and helped to make lasting changes. You can then judge whether it might work for you.  

A new attitude 

Chi Running is an excellent and sustainable approach that has, for me, led to a new attitude to exercise. It is energy efficient, reduces injury, and increases enjoyment of movement. Many people who take up Chi Running find it the start of a journey towards improved fitness and lifestyle.

A ‘Chi Running journey’ can lead to less stress, greater relaxation, sustained weight loss, improved breathing, and a more positive outlook in general. Interested?

You may already appreciate some of the positives about running. Getting outdoors, natural light, green space and the open air boost your mood. The more you do it the more you crave it, and you become less wary of the cold and the wet. And when the sun is finally shining, all the better. However you may not be aware that good running form gives a whole body workout. Chi Running will help protect your ankles, knees and hips, and increase overall body strength, starting at the core.

Gradual progress

The concept of gradual progress is key in Chi Running. A Chi Running instructor works with your current level of fitness and your available time. Your need for replenishing sleep, recovery, nutrition and relaxation are all taken into account. As you become fitter and stronger your commitment and motivation is likely to grow. That’s when you might feel like ‘stepping it up’, in a way that feels natural and sustainable. When energised and confident you might be more motivated to lift weights, join a class, take up Pilates – who knows where it might lead?

Often our fitness goals are related to external appearance. We develop a stomach or flabby arms and resolve to ‘look better’. We look for some kind of ‘instant’ new year fix.  However, too intensive a programme requiring a continual effort of will can result in injury, burn-out (overtraining) and a return to slothful ways. Just as a crash diet often results in putting the weight back on when you stop, if you’re not careful you may end up with even less motivation than you had at the outset.  

Often goals based on intrinsic motivation are more sustainable. I found it more useful to focus on how you feel. More alert, more energetic, more lust for life – a regular Chi Running habit can really help you here – and the external changes will occur as a consequence. 

Benefits of working with a qualified instructor

When we join a gym we expect to get advice on form and posture, and a balanced and varied programme, if we are to avoid injury. We tend to view running as something we simply ‘do’. However many runners (statistics vary between 30% and a whopping 80%) will experience injuries of some kind in any given year. Chi Running training sessions really focus on your form. They are likely to enrich your running experience and boost your confidence and enjoyment significantly. Consider investing in a Chi Running coach to make 2017 a year of fitness transformation.

Bernard Bulaitis

Bernard Bulaitis

Bernard Bulaitis is a Chi Running Instructor in Training. Having run for pleasure on a regular basis for many years, upon approaching middle age, with family responsibilities and lack of attention to eating and drinking he began to  put on weight, became ‘lazier’ and started to neglect exercise. If this sounds a bit like you – you can be assured of a sympathetic and understanding coach who can help you to get back on track and re-discover the relaxation, energy-conservation and the deep pleasure that running can bring.

“Chi Running helped me to change my life. I am fitter and have more energy now at 58 than I had at 35. The last five years have been an inspiring Chi Running journey. I’m by no means a high-powered athlete, but I will have a lot to offer as a running coach. I can help you make a real difference if you are interested in sustained, pleasurable running with a reduced chance of injury.”

Building a Chi Running Habit

Building a Chi Running Habit

You want to change the way you run. Maybe your knees are giving you bother. You’d like running to feel a little less heavy going. Or you just want to run as well as you can, for as long as you can. So you’ve read the Chi Running book, or you’ve taken a workshop. You understand the principles and ideas behind it. Now what? How do you take those ideas and make them part of how you move? How do you build a Chi Running habit?

Begin and end with alignment

Now, I’ll admit it, when I first started learning to Chi Run, I skipped quickly over that alignment stuff. Shoulders, hips and ankles in a line? Bish, bash, bosh – got it. Now get me to the part where I can START RUNNING!

But through the years, this is the lesson that I keep coming back to. Everything builds on alignment. The better I can organise my body, the more stable and supported I feel while running; the less muscle effort I have to use; and the better all the pieces of Chi Running seem to fit together.

It affects everything, from how easily you breathe, to how well your core muscles can function, to how tired you feel at the end of a run.

If you don’t know where to start with Chi Running, or what to focus on, start with alignment.

Throughout the day, tune in to how you’re holding your body. To begin with, you’ll probably have to keep reminding yourself to be aware. To notice when your hips are drifting forwards, or your shoulders are drifting upwards. But the more you build an alignment habit, the more you’ll instinctively sense when it’s off.

At first, it may not seem like the sexiest part of Chi Running, but the time you invest in practising and sensing alignment will reward you hugely, in your running and beyond.

It may feel weird  – and that’s OK

Your body gets comfortable with how you habitually use it and how you move it. You probably always step up first with the same foot, cross your legs the same way, clasp your hands with the same thumb on top. So when you try something different, it can feel a bit… well… weird.

Trust the weirdness. The more you practise, the less weird it seems. Until suddenly, going back to your old habits feels wrong.

Weird is fine. Painful is not. Chi Running is about gently working with your body to make changes, not forcing yourself into strange and unnatural positions. If you’re feeling tension or a lot of discomfort, ease off. Try less. Work within your boundaries. Gradual progress in everything.

Use the right amount of (mental) effort

Chi Running is all about being efficient, using the right amount of effort, and that includes mental effort too.

It takes some focus to make changes, but there’s such a thing as too much focus. It’s really, REALLY hard to relax when you’re concentrating really, REALLY hard. Ease up on yourself a bit.

Treat each focus as an experiment to be played with, not a command to be obeyed. Be curious. Sense what happens and what changes. And if you forget, and slip back into old habits? No problem. Just notice and gently bring your attention back.

Take your time

“Expect anything worthwhile to take a really long time” – Debbie Millman

We’re living in the age of the instant fix. Life hacks and HIIT. We want results and we want them NOW.

The bad news is that there’s no short cut to changing your running technique. Which isn’t to say that the benefits can’t come quickly. I came to Chi Running in despair at yet another injury, and found myself moving with less pain almost immediately.

But to really make long-term change that lasts demands practise, persistence and patience. After all, it’s taken years to develop the movement habits you have now.

Slow down and take your time. Build your skills baby step by baby step. Piece by piece.

Sometimes you’ll feel buoyed by your progress. And sometimes you may feel as though you’re stuck. But know that even when change is so slow that it seems as though nothing is happening, it is. Suddenly something shifts, a new connection is made, and the seemingly impossible becomes easy. Or at least, easier.

Which brings me to…

Celebrate your successes

It’s an easy trap to fall into. We’re so busy looking forward to where we want to get to, we forget how far we’ve already come.

Notice what feels easier, not just what seems difficult. Sense what’s working well, not just what needs practise. Celebrate the times you stayed focused, and the times you became aware that you’d lost focus.

Measure your runs not just by how far and how fast, but by how present, how light, how enjoyable.

Never stop learning

“Better to explore with precision and attention for one minute, than to practise without precision and without attention for a lifetime” –  Edward Yu

 As a Chi Runner, I’ll never stop being a work-in-progress. And that’s just fine.

Even on the days when the chi ain’t flowing, there’s always the chance to learn something new. To discover how to relax and let go of tension I didn’t even know I had. To try a different focus or visualisation, and notice what changes. To move with just a little less effort.

It’s what has brought the joy back to my running.

Never just go through the motions. Keep exploring, and you’ll build a Chi Running habit for life 🙂

Hannah Kirkman

Hannah Kirkman

Hannah is a Certified Chi Running instructor based in Somerset. You can find her at www.blueskyrunning.co.uk