Float and Flow: Using the Elements to Run Hills

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People are always asking me what I think about when I’m out on a long run. “Don’t you get bored after being out there for 5 hours?” they ask. To tell you the truth, I don’t think the word “boredom” has ever crossed my mind during a run of any length … even a 100 miler. Aside from a lot of focused work on running technique, I also spend much of the time pondering all of the little curious questions that pop up around the subject of running.

So, here’s an idea that I was toying with the other day while running that has since become my mainstay for getting up and down hills.

It’s a no-brainer that running uphill is very different from running downhill, so here are some ChiRunning focuses to help you run those hills using a somewhat esoteric approach. It can even be fun!

According to ancient wisdom, everything in our physical world can be reduced to the four basic elements: earth, water, fire and air. These elements make up the backbone of Native American mythology and many other cultures all over the world.

Since these four elements describe the physical world, they have a physical hierarchy based on their density. What does that mean? It means that earth is the densest element and the slowest to change. Next up the ladder comes water which is a liquid and flows with the pull of gravity whenever it has the opportunity (and the temperature is above 32?). Then comes fire, which for reasons I can’t explain, burns in the opposite direction of gravity. And, lastly comes air … the least dense of all, and which is more invisible than visible.

The use of these elements has also found its way into the study of the human body. According to Chinese Medicine, there are specific areas of the body that correspond to each of the four basic elements. The lower part of the abdominal area including the bowels is related to the earth. This is demonstrated by the fact that everything that comes from that part of your body is headed for the compost pile and back to Mother Earth. The area just above the lower abdominal area, which includes the kidneys and bladder, is represented by the element of water. The mid-trunk area, including your liver, stomach and heart, is considered to be related to fire. These are the”work” organs because they do the work of transforming food and nutrients into usable energy. And, lastly, the upper trunk is related to air, which is where your lungs reside.

There is actually a fifth element that covers the brain, which is called “ether” because it deals with the non-physical world of thought. (We won’t go into that here, but stay tuned for a future article on the correct use of your brain.)

So, here’s how the elements stack up in your body from bottom to top:

Air Chest
Fire Midsection
Water Upper Abdominals
Earth Lower Abdominals

You’re probably thinking to yourself right now, “Wow, Danny’s really gone off the deep end this time. What does any of this have to do with running hills?”

Plenty. Try to think of the following two images when you are running downhill and uphill respectively.

Let’s start with the abdominal area, which includes everything below your belly button. Which two elements are represented there? Earth and water, right? The earth has a gravitational pull, which causes water to flow downhill. What better image could you ask for when it comes to running downhill? The natural direction of both elements is DOWN. So when you’re running downhill, put your focus on your lower body and use the following tips to engage that area:

• Relax your hips.
• Swing your pelvis.
• Let go of holding any tension in your legs.
• Use your abdominals to keep your posture straight.
• Use the image of lowering yourself down the hill, like water flowing through a stream bed.

All these focuses will help you to run smoothly and softly downhill without your legs and back taking a hammering. And, all of these focuses are below the waist! The key thing to remember here is”looseness and fluidity” and the word is FLOW. Just keep thinking to yourself,”I am water and earth flowing downward effortlessly”.

On the downhills your upper body doesn’t have that much to do, except maybe relax.

So what do I do for uphills?

What do you get when you combine fire with air? If I’m not mistaken, you get hot air.

And what does that do? It RISES !

What better image could you ask for when it comes to running uphill? So when you’re running uphill, put your focus on your upper body and use the following tips to engage that area:

• Keep your posture straight but forward.
• Swing your arms higher in front of you.
• Work with your breathing and expand your chest cavity.
• Think of floating up the hill like you’re a hot air balloon.
• Take the focus off of your legs and minimize the work of your lower body.

The key phrase to remember here is”lightness and expansion above the waist”, and the word is FLOAT. Let your upper body feel spacious and light, like an eagle catching an updraft.

Play with this idea the next time you go out for a run just think, “upper body for going up and lower body for going down.” You’ll soon find that it’s a very body-friendly way to take to the hills.

Posted in Beginners

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