RUNNING IS OFTEN A VERY MEDITATIVE ACTIVITY, but you can consciously use it as a mindfulness practice with ChiRunning, a method that is focused on pain-free posture, core strength, and relaxation. In “normal” running, the focus is often on building muscle power, gaining a competitive edge, and crossing the finish line as fast as you can. ChiRunning is about relaxation and body posture. It is a friendly and conscious way of running that tends to lead to fewer injuries and increased happiness.
According to spiritual leader and marathon runner, Sakyong Mipham, who wrote the book Running with the Mind of Meditation, “body and mind are intrinsically connected to each other, so reducing stress through exercise has an immediate effect on your mind.” This has been the case for centuries. “Since ancient times, humans have been aware of the fact that they are happier if the mind is flexible and the body strong,” he writes. “In the modern world, we are living in conditions that threaten this mental and physical balance. We sleep less, which leaves us feeling tired a lot. We spend most of our time sitting down.”
According to Mipham, we regularly take on too much, physically and mentally. Many people feel stressed out, busy, and unhappy. They have trouble concentrating, want to prove themselves, and are their own worst critics. Mindfulness and physical exercise—or better yet, a combination of the two—are good ways to deal with these problems.
THOUGHTS THAT PUT THE BRAKES ON
Still, it isn’t easy to lose yourself in running with your senses only. Mindfulness trainer, Kiki Nelissen-Kleipool agrees that your thoughts may still have a tendency to fly all over the place. You might think about that argument you had at work, about an approaching deadline, or even about the running itself: “I’ve still got so far to go,” or “I can’t go on anymore,” or “I am in such terrible shape.” Nelissen-Kleipool says those kinds of thoughts typically put the brakes on your running. “If you are constantly thinking about how many miles you’ve already run or how many you still have to go, you get tired quicker,” she says, “but by focusing your attention on the here and now, you have more energy and you can run for longer.”
What you also learn from the mindfulness viewpoint of ChiRunning is that thoughts are just thoughts and are not necessarily true. Convictions such as “I’m not a runner” and “running is not my thing” are also not true. Because it’s irrelevant: When you’re running, you are running, and that’s it. Once you’re free of those thoughts, running becomes easier. Even taking note of the fact that you are thinking can bring you back into the moment, says Nelissen-Kleipool. “You ‘wake up’ and can focus on the here and now again: on your breath, your surroundings, the length of your stride and your posture. “Of course there are moments when it’s harder or moments when your attention drifts,” she acknowledges. “But if you simply focus on the technique or on your breathing, the heaviness falls away again.” Even learning this technique centres you in the present. When you’re learning something new, your mind has less opportunity to drift.
A GOOD FRIEND
ChiRunning is not a magic formula that will have you running a marathon in a week’s time. You have to build up your fitness level, and your muscles need time to get accustomed to the activity. Sore and stiff muscles and physical tension are going to be part of the process. Mipham says you have to accept these. “It’s good to pay attention,” he writes. “Mindfulness, for the most part, consists of becoming more conscious of how you feel. Take your stiff muscles or aches and pains and focus on them. By acknowledging them, you break the pattern of avoiding feeling uncomfortable, which is an important psychological step in learning to be present. Maybe you’ve actually been a bit stiff all day but didn’t realize it until you started running.”
Another thing ChiRunning teaches you is to be friendly to yourself. We often use self-criticism for self-motivation, like “Lazybones, do something about your health.” We hope this will make us run farther. But research shows that selfcriticism has the opposite effect and makes you lose confidence in yourself. It’s far more productive to talk to yourself as you would to a good friend. “A good friend wants what’s best for us,” Mipham writes. “They don’t yell: ‘You’re no good at this!’ They remind us why we started on this path. They encourage us to keep going.” Once you’ve learned the technique and gotten in shape, you can pay more attention to your surroundings. Then running becomes more than plowing your way from one milestone to the next. “When you’re running in the forest, you can hear the trees rustling, see green all around you, smell the fresh air, and feel the humidity,” Mipham writes. “When you’re in the city, you hear the sounds of traffic and can bob along in the stream of people.”
FOCUS ON YOUR POSTURE
ChiRunning has yet to be studied formally, but there is plenty of research on the psychological effects of being in nature, running, and mindfulness. These three things are all said to lead to creativity, relaxation, happiness, and more headspace. A potent cocktail, in other words, that is bound to have a positive influence on your life. Juliette Baller from the Netherlands has benefited hugely from ChiRunning after taking courses in it for a few years. “For me, running is sheer joy,” she says. “In the beginning, it’s quite hard to relax while you’re running. But once you master that art, you also start feeling better mentally. When you can let go of all the physical tension, it’s easier to shake off mental tension too. That’s how it worked for me, in any case. I’m enjoying life much more now. Grateful that I’m able to do this, that I’m able to experience this. It really feels like a gift to me.” >>
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HOW TO GET STARTED WITH CHIRUNNING
1 POSTURE - Keep your posture straight, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. Stretch your body as long and straight as you can. When your spine is aligned, your weight is supported more evenly and you don’t rely entirely on your muscles.
2 LEAN Lean slightly from your ankles, but do not bend from your waist. Keep your spine straight. You’ll feel like you’re falling and you’ll have to take a step to stop yourself from actually falling. Gravity will propel you forward.
Each footstep falls lightly on the ground, at the base of your column (never ahead of it).
3 LOWER BODY - While you fall forward, raise your foot from the ground to stop yourself from falling. Don’t use your legs in any way to move forward—only for support while striding. Strike the ground with your midfoot, not with your heel. (When you strike the ground with your heel, your knees and shins suffer; when you strike with the middle of your foot, it cushions the impact on your body.)
4 UPPER BODY - Let your upper body lead the way. Work with gravity by allowing yourself to fall forward. By swinging your elbows backward, you form a counterbalance. This leads to a very natural and relaxed way of running.
5 PACE, ACCELERATION, AND LENGTH OF STRIDE - In ChiRunning, you keep your pace constant. What does change, however, is your stride: the length of your step. As your speed increases, your strides become longer (and vice versa).