The Path of Least Resistance
I had a spiritual teacher who gave me a great definition of "relaxation." He said, "Relaxation is the absence of unnecessary effort." That sounds simple enough but it's easier said than done. I'm constantly working at it, and when I try to apply it to my running, it goes something like this: The more I can relax my legs and not "effort" with them, and the less resistance they will create to my forward momentum. In the past year this has been the biggest "light bulb" to go off in my head. It worked so well for me in my last race that I was able to run some of the steeper hills in the later miles that I would normally have to walk (we're talking really steep hills here). The more I play with this idea, the less and less I use my legs as my main force of movement.
Chi Running teaches you to reduce your leg effort, which means to take the emphasis off your legs to get your legs "out of the way" so that your body can run more easily. I agree ... it is somewhat of a radical idea. But it doesn't mean that there's no effort there just isn't any unnecessary effort. This creates less resistance to your forward momentum. The faster I run, the more I can feel myself move from my center and the less I need to use my legs. Likewise, the more I gather to my center, the less I use my legs the faster I run. The cycle works either way.
I've been using this idea as a way to learn to run more effortlessly and, being the curious person that I am, I've been trying to see how this principle applies to the rest of my life as well. So far it seems to apply in every situation. As long as I stay relaxed and centered, I more easily accomplish any job that is set before me whether it's running a 10K, cooking a meal or commuting to Palo Alto. It seems so much easier to do anything when you offer no resistance to doing it especially when it's something that you don't like to do! If my legs offer no resistance, the run happens as it should. If I offer no resistance, my life happens as it should.
When you resist, or create unnecessary effort or tension, it restricts your flow of energy. A friend of mine who is a body/mind therapist calls this a "non-freedom". "When someone is internally free," he says, "they move through life easier and with much less tension. By free, I mean living with less of the mental tension, worries, uptightness and fears that are common to us all."
In running, "non-freedom" assumes many forms which restrict your range of motion. You may hold tension in your hips, calves, shoulder blades, or in your breath. Injuries are often the result of a restricted range of motion.
There are about as many ways to be uptight as there are people in this planet. Fears and tension keep us from being ourselves and more importantly, from feeling ourselves. They keep us from running freely. Relaxation creates a sense of freedom in everything, whether it's running, giving a presentation to a prospective client or handling a child's tantrum. No one can argue with the positive benefits of being deeply relaxed and focused.
Running is a place where you can begin to explore the potential freedom of deeply relaxing. The exercises practiced in Chi Running are tools to help you to learn to relax your body. I know from experience how difficult it can be to release ingrained tension, but it is possible and the feeling of freedom will effect not only your running, but work it's way into the rest of your life.