Relax Your Body, Improve Your Performance
Relaxation is what we all say we want: to be relaxed, without stress, without tension. However the reality is that relaxing can be very difficult for many people. Many people are not aware of the tension that they carry, especially the tension in their bodies. Then perhaps you get a shoulder massage and WOW, just the slightest touch and you can feel the pain. Or you lie down to go to sleep and you finally do feel the tension in your body and you can’t sleep, or you may feel it when you wake up and you are stiff and can’t get moving as easily as you’d like.
You may not realize it, but stress and tension hinders your forward movement, whether you’re walking or running. Any tension held in your muscles and tendons will restrict your range of motion causing you to have to work harder to move your body. Tense muscles are a primary cause of injury. When you don’t stay on top of it, tension can get deeper and deeper into your body.
And yet, the idea of relaxing your muscles to go faster or further while walking or running is alien to our idea of how to improve our sport. We’re generally told to work harder to be successful, to push harder to be the winner, to do more to reach our goals. To relax we’re asking you to do less.
Since ChiRunning and ChiWalking allow gravity to pull you forward, your main muscle usage (lower abs) is leveling your pelvis, which holds your posture in alignment, and allows your structure to support your body weight between strides. All the rest of your body should be as relaxed as possible. To reap the full benefits of that strong core, you need to relax all else, deeply and completely. As a matter of fact, one of my best focuses is to drop all tension into my abdomen, where that energy is put to good use. Whenever I feel tight shoulders or even tension in traffic or about an upcoming presentation, I drop as much of the energy and tension into my core as I can. I use the energy as positive fuel.
People carry tension all over their bodies, from their face, to their neck, shoulders, upper back, chest, lower back, glutes and all down their legs and into their ankles and feet as well. Relaxing your body can help you drop mental tension and visa versa. Dropping ideas of how you should be performing will help your body relax.
Get into a regular habit of doing Body Scans and train yourself to detect tension in your body. You can’t do anything about tension unless you first feel it and accurately locate it. If you can release the tension, go ahead, but if you can’t, don’t worry. We’re going to give you several good techniques to help you relax.
Here are some techniques for general relaxation:
- Sit in a chair, comfortably upright. Take a deep breath and then tense every muscle in your body and hold it for 15 seconds … your face and head, neck, shoulders, arms and hands. Tense your belly and all the muscles around your pelvis. Then tighten all the muscles in your upper legs, lower legs and feet.
Then, purse your lips (like you're trying to blow out a candle) and let go of all the tension you've been holding in your body as you blow all of your breath out through your lips. Repeat this cycle three times. The whole thing should take about two minutes, so you can do it at your desk…at a stop light, before or after you go out for your run. Basically anytime you've got some relaxation to do and a few minutes to spare.
- Lie on your back on a rug, yoga mat, or carpeted floor. Do a scan of your body starting at the top of your head and ending at your toes. Take your time and imagine you have a miniature street sweeper cleaning the tension off your body as it moves from your head to your toes. It's sweeping all of the tension away and leaving your body in a deeply relaxed state. Breathe deeply while you're doing this.
- Lie on your back or sit comfortably in a chair with your spine straight. Place your thumb on one side of your nostrils and your middle finger on the other. Close one nostril with your thumb and breathe in through the opposite nostril. When you've inhaled completely, close the nostril you just breathed in through, with your middle finger and exhale by letting go of the thumb and letting the air go out through that nostril. Exhale completely by pulling your belly button in towards your spine. When you've completely exhaled, let your belly expand and refill your lungs through the same nostril. When you've completely filled your lungs, close that nostril with your thumb and exhale through the nostril that your middle finger was holding closed. The cycle of breathing should go … inhale with left nostril, close it, exhale through the right nostril, inhale through the right nostril, close it, exhale through the left nostril, inhale through the left nostril, etc. Do this for 30 breaths.
This will oxygenate your muscles and calm your brain and leave you in a very relaxed state.
- The Body Looseners in both the ChiRunning and ChiWalking books and DVDs are the best way to loosen and relax your body before working out, or anytime at all. You can use the whole set to relax your whole body or just use the loosener that applies to the particular area of your body where you feel tension.
Staying relaxed is a practice well worth making into a daily habit. Relaxation creates a healthier body, more ease and enjoyment in your walking and running and generally a higher quality of life. When you’re relaxed chi can flow. ChiRunning and ChiWalking are a reminder that good things don’t have to be difficult. As a matter of fact, the more you relax, the easier it gets.