Gathering and Issuing: Energy management for distance running and walking
Let’s discuss a principle of T’ai Chi that is not mentioned in either the ChiRunning or ChiWalking books. The principle is called Gathering and Issuing. This principle, or “law,” provides the underpinnings of energy management, which is different from energy efficiency because it governs how you manage your expenditure of energy when you’re practicing ChiRunning or ChiWalking. Rest, renewal, recuperation and rejuvenation are all great themes, but most people think of these as occurring after a workout. So how can you rejuvenate in the midst of your workout?
Gathering can best be equated to resting, storing or “collecting,” energy. Gathering can be thought of as preparation for issuing. One example of a good time to focus on gathering energy is the beginning of a run or race. The beginning is the time to prepare your body, to focus your mind, to gather in the energy of your body into your spine. It is a time to marshal and conserve your energy, to check in with your posture and remind yourself to relax, and to reinstate your “C” Shape, which in itself is a type of gathering posture. Gathering to your center and relaxing everything else is a gathering of energy. There are times to issue and there are times to gather. Allowing your body to slowly warm up during the run will provide many benefits later on – when you decide it’s time to hit the gas pedal, shift to a higher gear and focus on issuing that energy. When you can Body Sense when to do each of them at their appropriate times, you won’t end up trying to draw from an empty well.
Issuing is precisely what it sounds like. It’ happens when you apply your available energy, whether going up a hill or finishing a race with strength, speed and confidence. Whenever you’re running at a steady pace for an extended period of time, you can practice gathering and issuing alternatively; gathering in when you are feeling tired, issuing when it feels good. This puts you in control of your energy management at all times.
The disadvantage many people have is not knowing when to gather and when to issue. Once you can Body Sense what it feels like to gather and issue, you can then learn when to apply one or the other at the most ideal time in your workout. This allows you to rest and recover energy during your workout. You can devote entire workouts to gathering energy, and then use that energy for your work, family or projects.
Runners and walkers “hit the wall” in races or workouts when they issue too much at the beginning and neglect the gathering aspect. Overall, we Western folk seem to focus more on issuing energy and less on gathering in. The result is injury, exhaustion or burn out.
When you are walking or running, the “C” Shape – lengthening the back of your neck, dropping your chin, and leveling your pelvis – creates a container in your pelvic area and in your torso. Even when issuing, if you keep the “C” Shape, you will not issue beyond your capacity. Maintain your “C” Shape even when issuing at top speed.
To issue your energy, focus on your legs going out the back. This will create a strong, healthy twist of your spine which, when released, will generate a lot of power … an issuing of energy. The rotation of the pelvis is another place where energy can be issued, when the time is right. At first, you want to allow your pelvis rotate from pure relaxation (while maintaining a level pelvis – that is crucial). Once you have a natural rotation, you can begin to encourage the rotation when it is time to issue energy. We’ll cover this technique in a future article.
The real key to gathering and issuing is the focus of your mind. Mentally focus on gathering your energy in toward your center, toward your spine. Then focus on feeling that energy issuing that energy out your arms and legs and Body Sense how it feels.
There are many times I’ve come back from a run with more energy than I left with, and you might find that you can gain more energy from running and walking than by resting and recuperating on the sofa.
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