Economics of Nature

When we lived in northern California, the rainy season would stop sometime in late April or early May and wouldn’t rain a drop until sometime in September or October. When the forest trails are covered with freshly fallen leaves, it is fun to playfully try to dodge the odd leaf that was still on its way down. Every time the wind gives a little puff, more leaves fall. What’s happening to the trees is that they ‘re conserving energy by getting rid of any extra burden like excess leaves that require water. It rains quite a bit in the “winter” in California, so the trees are used to getting all their nourishment in the rainy winter months and doing their best to prepare for the yearly drought conditions of the summer by letting go of excess ‘baggage’ in the form of leaves.

Ok, that’s cool, but what can you learn about running from this? Lots. If you take the principle that is working here it’s saying that Nature has a way of adjusting to the circumstances of existence in a very economical way. If a tree is fed lots of water it will grow accordingly, but if that water supply is restricted, the tree makes the necessary adjustments to cope with the change by drawing its energy away from the peripheral areas (leaves and branches) and toward its center (it’s trunk and roots). That ‘s why all the leaves are falling in June; the water has been turned off for a month, so it’s time to conserve energy.

For myself, I use Nature as a model of economic strategy especially when it comes to energy expenditure while running. When I ‘m running, most of my long-term strength and power is located in my “trunk” area (neck to hips) and not in my arms and legs. So, when I’m running, I ‘m always trying to run from my core (my spine and trunk area) and not from my peripheral parts (my arms and legs).

When you run, you can intentionally focus on working your abs and oblique muscles (core muscles). The abdominals are responsible for flexing your spine forward and the obliques (the muscles just to either side of your abs) are responsible for rotating or twisting your spine. While focusing on using only core muscles to generate movement, you can also focus on relaxing your lower body from my waist on down. When I say “relaxing your lower body” I mean do everything in your power to not use that part of your body at all. I have found it both challenging and fun at the same time. In those moments when I could get my core to do the work, my running takes on a whole new flavor. I feel very light on my feet. My legs don’t feel pounded or heavy, my breathing is easier and my heart rate drops. Just like the tree when it “withdraws” its energy from its leaves and branches when water is scarce, you can do something similar by “withdrawing” your energy expenditure from your arms and legs and bringing it to your core in order to conserve energy. It’s the same law that works in both places!

After you’ve tried this, you’ll be surprised that the greatest challenge is in learning how to relax. Why is it so hard to do something that should be so easy? Just relax. Yeah, right. My T’ai Chi teacher, Master Xu has been gently trying to get me to loosen my shoulders for years now. I guess old habits die hard.

So, the next time you go out for a run, try working your abs (hold a very light crunch position) and your obliques (feel the twisting motion of your spine as your hips rotate in one direction and your shoulders counter-rotate in the opposite direction.) Just play with it. Focus on your core and let the rest of your body relax. Gather to your center and let go of all else. Let go of holding any energy in your peripheral limbs and gather your energy to your center. Think about the economy of a tree dropping its leaves. The more you gather inward, the more you have to let go at the extremities, and that’s just how Nature works economically speaking.

Posted in Technique

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