Run Well by Exercising Your Mind
The ability to have a focused mind is a tremendous asset in life. The most successful people have the strongest ability to focus their mind on their long term goal and on the task at hand. Focusing keeps you on a direct path to your goal. Just like a river needs its banks to keep it flowing, your mind needs focus to keep it from wandering and straying from your desired intention.
In Chapter Four of the Chi Running book, you get the specific instructions to learn the Chi Running technique. Each instruction is called a Form Focus, because each is a specific instruction you focus on to improve your running. Focuses have been used for millennia as a way to narrow down the wanderings of the mind to bring oneself into the moment. In a meditation practice, a focus could be gazing at a candle or simply watching your breath. In golf, it’s keeping your eye on the ball. In Chi Running you focus on directing and listening to your body.
Let’s say, for instance, that the Form Focus is relaxing your shoulders. Your mind would then put its attention on your shoulders to see whether they are relaxed. If your mind senses tension, it will direct your arms to swing a little more loosely, then it will watch to see whether or not the instruction worked. If it did, great! If it didn’t, your mind might try something else, like directing your arms to hang limp at your sides. Then it would monitor the response and so on. There’s always a mental and a physical component to a Form Focus.
Focusing your mind exercises the brain. In Chi Running, your mind gets a workout by scanning your body, then by directing the body with a Form Focus and then listening to the response. It tells your body when to work and when to relax. There are times when your mind will wander, and rather than focusing on your body and the movements you’ll be practicing, you’ll start to think about something else, such as the project you have due at work, the disagreement you had with your co-worker, the menu for your upcoming dinner party. It will wander.
Your job, the exercise that you will apply to that wandering mind, is to come back to your Form Focus as often as possible. When your mind wanders, you will re-focus it on your movement. Every time you re-focus, you’re building your mind’s muscles. So your job is not to stay focused, because you won’t for very long, but to re-focus your mind over and over. We suggest using a watch that has a beeper. You can use the beeper as a tool to refocus your mind. You can set it to repeat in one minute intervals. You will think of a Form Focus, such as lifting your heels. For as long as you can, your mind will direct your heels to be lifted up in the back, and your mind will monitor how well your body is doing. Then your mind will wander to that new pair of shoes you saw in the store, or your child’s bicycle tire that needs air, and your beeper will go off … ahhh, yes, back to the Form Focus. You may find your heels are still lifting, that your body learned this new Form Focus easily, or that you need to repeat this Focus for five or ten more minutes to really get it right.
Learning to focus your mind during ChiRunning will sharpen your mind’s eye. It takes practice, but eventually you’ll become adept at watching your actions, not only while running, but all through your day. When you are observant of your actions, it’s called mindfulness and it is one of the oldest practices on Earth. Being mindful in our daily activities brings a whole new level of richness to life. When we’re not consumed with thoughts of the past and worries of the future, we can be present in the moment with whatever is in front of us. Everyone always says how envious they are of children, because they can be so “in the present.” Younger children are indeed very much in the present, but they’re not mindful and they’re not supposed to be. As conscious adults, it is our “work” to regain the presence of a child while also being mindful in the moment.
The interesting thing about the mind is that focusing it actually allows it to rest because it is not thinking of a hundred things at once. That’s why meditation quiets and rests the mind. When you can narrow your thoughts down to just a few, it really gives your brain a break from the chaos. Then, when you come back into your everyday life, you can function more clearly. Focusing the mind has the incredible dual role of both strengthening and resting the mind at the same time. How’s that for multi-tasking?
The Chi Running Focuses act to engage the mind repeatedly, which strengthens its ability to focus. If you want to build a stronger muscle in your body, you find a specific exercise that works to strengthen that particular muscle. Then you repeat the exercise regularly until the muscle becomes strong. Your mind works in much the same way. If you want to train your mind to work better, engaging it repeatedly with a single focus will do the trick.
I’ve heard that the average human uses about 10% of his or her brain capacity. I think that number is generous. Our minds wander so much during the day that it’s amazing we get anything done. Learning to focus your mind with Chi Running will enable you to return to your center, to alignment, and to balance. With a focused mind you’ll become adept at observing your actions and sensing your body, and more mindful of how you move through life. This is the promise of Chi Running; to build a strong mind and body and the connection between them.