Push and Relax
How many times have you begun a training program having very good intentions to get yourself into the best shape you've ever been in? Sound familiar? Then when you're out there on a run, you try to push yourself as hard as you can so that you can build up your muscles and improve your aerobic conditioning. No pain, no gain, right? Still sound familiar? Then, something happens in one of your workouts where you push it just a little too far and you get an injury. Bummer! Then you have to take the time off to heal yourself and lose all that great conditioning. If all of this sounds all too familiar to you, read on. Here are three new definitions for you:
Push (poosh) vt., vi. The act of doing everything within your power to accomplish a given activity.
Re-lax-a-tion (re'-lak-say'-shun) n. The absence of unnecessary effort.
Push and Relax (poosh-and-re-laks') vt. The act of doing everything in your power to accomplish a given activity while maintaining an absence of any unnecessary effort on your part.
How most people might define "push and relax" is that you push yourself like crazy and when you can't do any more, or when you're done, you get to relax (or have to relax, which is most likely the case). In this way the definition becomes, "push, and then relax." But, there's no law that says you can't do both at the same time. This is where it gets revolutionary.
Let's look at this one piece at a time. In the context of sports, the word "push" conjures up all kinds of images of physical intensity and lots of effort. Push is what you do when you've just "got to get that job done." This is most likely where that all-too-familiar phrase "just do it!" comes from. What I'd like to do is offer you an alternative approach to "the way of the gerbil cage."
In the new definition laid out above, there is a certain level of effort, but it's not all physical. It's more of an all-inclusive form of effort. That means that you are striving to be aware of what you need to do, mentally and physically, and then responding to that by bringing to bear all that you are capable of doing and nothing more. I'll give you an example: When I'm running in a race, I'm not just relying on the strength of my body to get me through. I'm using all that I know, all that I've learned from experience, everything that I can think of that will help me do my best. That's what I mean by "push" — I'm constantly working to keep my technique smooth and efficient. I'm remembering to lean and to pick up my feet. I'm constantly adjusting my form to respond to changes in terrain and slope. I'm watching my pacing so that I'm not spending my fuel too fast. I'm checking in with my body to see if there's anywhere I'm holding tension. It's a constant dialog between my brain and my body. My brain asks my body the questions my body responds my brain tells my body to make an adjustment my body responds and so on.
The second part of the definition involves "relaxation" and it's pretty self-explanatory. "The absence of unnecessary effort" means that if you don't do any more than is necessary (to accomplish an activity), you won't be wasting any energy and feeling drained afterwards. Here are a couple of examples. I see a lot of people who hold their shoulders high when they run. This does nothing to help them to swing their arms and causes them to burn more fuel doing an activity that doesn't contribute to their running. Another example would be someone who is so over-focused on how slow or fast they are running, that they detract from their ability to just run relaxed. Mental activities like obsessing and worrying burn more calories per minute than almost any other activity. So, if you're going to burn those calories, it's a good idea to use them wisely and save them for real work.
Running is a time to focus and pay attention to your body and learn to listen to it. Most of the trouble we get into is because we don't listen to our bodies. Injuries happen because people don't listen. T'ai Chi is like meditation in that it is the path and the end, the means and the goal. The focuses of Chi Running, taught in the Chi Running Book, are lessons in learning how to focus and sharpen your body/mind connection. We westerners need to learn some of what the Chinese have know for centuries. The principle of "push and relax" is all about the "push" of focus and the absence of unnecessary effort behind that push.
Our society puts a huge value on productivity and results. We're a very goal-oriented bunch. But what ends up happening in many instances is a person might reach their goal and have nothing to show for it but the accomplishment. Working 60-80 hour weeks has produced some rich people but ruined many relationships, families and marriages. What's it worth if the process isn't as important as the goal? A lot of people muscle their way through things and they consider that giving 100%. I've seen many people complete a marathon race and then not be able to run again for a couple of weeks because of overuse of their muscles during the race. But if that same person were really listening to his/her body, then overuse would never be a problem because she would have made an adjustment as her body approached the threshold of overuse. You get what I mean — No pain, no pain, simple as that.
This principle works in all areas of life, whether it's running a 10K or running a business. It all has to be done by focus, not by force, and if you throw in the principle of "the absence of unnecessary effort," then everything gets done in its own time and no one gets hurt or burned out.
When you're truly using the "push and relax" principle, you can gain energy from whatever the undertaking, instead of ending up injured, wasted, or brain dead. As my T'ai Chi teacher Master Xu has said, "It's not who wins the race, it's who lives longer."