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

The Five Element Theory

The Five Element Theory

The five element theory

Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space

In order to progress in Chi Running think in terms of the five elements found throughout Chinese philosophy. There are many variations but Chi Running uses earth, water, fire, air and space (or ether). Elements have their own distinct characteristics and are hierarchical in terms of density, earth being the most dense and space the least. Earth creates the stable foundation on which to build strength and refine the subtitles of your movement allowing power, fluidity and speed through unified mind and body.

Earth represents physical and emotional strength and stability

Earth represents physical and emotional strength and stability

Earth represents physical support and stability predominately from the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. This is the foundational support that needs to be in place especially during the load and support phase of your stride. Restful sleep, relaxation and nourishing food restores the strength and quality of earth.

Water provides fluidity to motion. Your water band is located above the pelvis where your ‘water’ organs reside. It is often considered the ‘moving centre’ of the body. Water provides fluidity to motion (ROM). When you can sense controlled movement in this area your stride takes on a more fluid feel with less bounce and impact. It lends elasticity to skin, muscles and joints, and allows you to face obstacles with grace and pleasure.

Fire symbolises work and transformation. The fire band is above your water band and houses the hard working organs – heart, liver and lungs and muscles such as obliques and transversus abdominus. Fire adds ‘drive’ to your movement and also provides smooth and natural energy that can sustain activity over a long period of time and without strain. Fire keeps water from turning to ice, allows it to be wet and flow.

Air represents the power of breath, the mind and thoughts. Air represents inspiration in terms of breath and imagination. Air is an upward moving element. The key quality of air is movement and speed.

Space is container for other elements. Space is the whole body physically and energetically integrated, not just internally but with external environment and energies. Space has no beginning and no end. Makes space where things can happen. Space in the ribs allows lungs to expand. Space in head allow breath to pass. Anything is possible in space.

Incorporating these elements into your running will help to give structure to your practice.


Gray Caws
Director Chi Running UK & Ireland


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