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