Put Body Sensing to Use
So, how do you put some of this "Body Sensing" into action? This is the fun part. It's where you get to teach yourself how to listen with your body and respond with your mind.
I think the #1 complaint and perception of running is that it is hard work. A perception of mine is that the present running paradigm (I'll call it "Power Running" for lack of a better term) tells us that if your muscles are tired, it means that you're muscles are not big and strong enough. This leads one to believe that they need to up the anti with their training. People feel they have to power their way through their running goals. That's not the case with Chi Running. With Chi Running you learn to sense which part of you is tired or overworked how to give that part a rest, and how to engage other areas of your body to get the job done while you continue to run and get all the benefits of a good workout. Learning to sense your body will allow you to monitor your energy expenditure, find inefficiencies and then allow you to respond appropriately.
A good time to begin honing your Body Sensing skills is when you're out running and you begin to feel tired. When this happens (and it will) it's nice to be able to make an adjustment in your running technique to alleviate the situation. But first, it's important to locate which muscles are tired. Then you can do a better job of making the proper adjustments. Just because you can feel fatigue in your muscles doesn't necessarily mean that you have to stop and rest.
One of my favorite tricks is to engage the muscles that aren't tired.
First, scan your body. If there is any place where you feel tired or sore it means that you are either overworking that area or holding tension there. Like my T'ai Chi master says, "Wherever you feel fatigue, that's where you're not letting your Chi flow through. " If you feel tired it means that those particular muscles need to rest and be allowed to recover. Well, if you're in the middle of a run or a race you can't exactly just sit down and eat a banana and wait for your energy to return. And if you keep using those tired muscles they could become tired beyond the point of recovery - and you could spend the remainder of your run a very unhappy camper.
Here's an alternative. You can temporarily switch to a different set of muscles to get the job done. Then when your tired muscles have recovered some, you can go back and let them continue to do their job.
If you've been practicing your body sensing, you will be able to locate the specific muscles that are tired or at least narrow it down to a general area...ie. upper legs, lower legs, arms, torso, brain. Get the idea? All it takes is to ask yourself (your body), "Where am I tired?" Then, when you feel like you've got the correct area pinned down, you can then start to focus on two things:
A.) relaxing that particular area so that it can rest and recover, and
B.) redirecting your muscle usage to a different area of your body.
For instance, if your legs are tired you have at least 3 options of what you can do lean more (use your abs more), shorten your stride (use your legs less) or increase your arm swing (increase arm and upper body usage). Any of these will take some of the work off your legs and allow them to recover. You only need to use your "alternative" muscles for 5 minutes or so, and then you can shift back to your original muscles and continue on your merry way.
Varying your muscle groups allows them to operate more like a team where each muscle group is contributing it's fair share to the benefit of the whole. In essence, you're pulling from many resources to accomplish the goal. Teamwork works best because no one gets overused. But, in the case where you have a less than proportional balance of all your muscles, you can have something to fall back on.
Another way to practice running with different muscle groups is to try to engage them when you're not particularly tired. Play with it and experiment with trying to run by using muscles other than the main ones on which you always rely. You'll be surprised how much more is available for you to tap into. It will also help you to recognize and become much more familiar with all of the various muscle groups in your body.
It all falls under "Body Sensing" which looks to me to be the wave of the future in terms of cutting-edge training methods. Yoga, Pilates and T'ai Chi are all disciplines which base themselves on this type of practice, and they are all enjoying huge growth in numbers right now.
How did I come across all this information? I'll give you a clue. I didn't read about it in any books. That's because it's not IN any books. I learned about it by doing my own body sensing and by listening to the observations of other Chi Runners out there who are themselves experimenting with how to make their own running more relaxed and efficient. I also owe it to being blessed with having met and worked with people like Master Xu, who have truly mastered the mind/body connection.
I encourage you to experiment on your own. Listen to your body, try a response. Listen again. Is it working? Listen again, tweak it a little, listen again. I can explain this stuff 'til the cows come home, but the real work is yours. You are your own best teacher. And, most of all, have fun with this.