Creating Balance and Efficiency in Your Running
One of the main laws under which Nature operates is the law of balance. All things in our physical universe fall under this law, and when something is out of balance, its "chi" doesn't flow as it could. This rule seems to hold true for everything ... from artwork, to architecture, to the meals we eat. But the place where it is directly felt the most by us humans is in the movement of our bodies. When our bodies are out of balance, our movement can become inefficient, laborious and sometimes unsafe, leaving us to be very unhappy campers.
In the practice of t'ai chi, one is asked to constantly maintain a sense of balance in each of the six directions of the body. These six directions are actually divided into three pairs which balance each other. The three pairs are: upper body/lower body, left side/right side and front side/back side. Each pair forms a complementary partnership in which one part is not the opposite, but the complement of the other. In this way they do not work against each other, but in cooperation with each other to create balance. The upper body should not be working more than the lower body, just as the right side of the body should not be working any harder than the left side. When your body moves in a balanced way, your running becomes very efficient. This is because every part of your body is doing its own fair share in contributing to your movement in a way that nothing is overused or left unattended.
The principle of balance doesnt just apply to your muscle usage. It could include the range of motion of your arms and legs or the relaxation levels between the left and right sides of your body. When you're running, try to sense whether or not one shoulder is more relaxed than the other. Are you holding one hand higher than the other? Does one leg swing more easily than the other? By constantly working towards a greater level of symmetry throughout your body, you'll gain a sense of wholeness and fluidity in our movement.
The Body Sweep
Improving your balance begins with self-observation ... just watching. After about five minutes of running, place your attention onto your feet and work your way up your body, watching for any imbalances between the movement of your left and right sides. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this. You can either try to sense the difference internally or you can run past a storefront window and watch your reflection to see if you can notice any differences between one side of your body and the other. Watch your knees. Do they bend the same? Does one foot float up behind you more than the other? Which swings more, your shoulders or your hips? Scan your shoulders and then let your attention move down your arms to your elbows and on to your wrists and fingers. Can you feel more tension in one shoulder than the other? Watch for any tension, stiffness or soreness anything that stands out during your scan. As you move through each section of the body, check to see if the right and left sides of your body are similar in their effort level, range of motion and relaxation level. This doesn't have to be a long, involved process, but the more you do it, the more obvious the differences will be.
I recommend doing this side-to-side balancing scan at least three times during each run. When you come across anything that feels out of balance, try to figure out or feel what is causing the imbalance and do your best to correct it.
A great way to create balance between two halves of your body is to let the "good" side be a model for the side that needs help. Then get the improper side to imitate the correct side. If one side of your body feels tight, just tell it to imitate the side that is not tight. If you tend to strike your heel more on one foot than the other, see if you can get the heel that strikes more to imitate the heel that strikes less, until both your heels feel exactly the same.
Your level of efficiency while running is directly proportionate to your level of balance, in all directions. The closer you come to truly running in a balanced state, the less effort you'll experience while running and the less apt you'll be to getting injured.
And, like the title of the Chi Running book says, you'll be running effortlessly and injury-free.