Running and the Four Chi Skills
Recently, one of our instructors, Ryan Miller, reminded us about the four Chi skills as applied to teaching. I wanted to touch on them as they apply to running. The four skills are Focusing, Body Sensing, Breathing, Relaxing. I'll go through each one as it applies to my running.
In the start of a run, I usually pick a focus that I need to work on. Lately it’s been to stabilize my pelvis from lateral movement on my left side. That’s the side with the knee I damaged. I’ve been ‘coming back’ from this injury for quite a while now, and I have been having lateral hamstring and IT band tightness on that leg. I couldn’t figure it out until one day, while brushing my teeth, I was practicing standing on one leg while looking in the mirror. I noticed that when I switched to my left leg, there was a slight outward movement of my hip. If I stabilized my pelvis (engage my core), there was no movement, and it felt as solid as it did when standing on the right leg. This is the one-legged posture stance, by the way. So my focus was to work on that all the time, including while running. And holding to the pyramid of form, distance, and speed, I only run as far as I can hold this good form. The distance I can do this is gradually creeping upward.
Body sensing the difference between unstable and stable became much easier when I practiced it standing still at first. As I began to notice the shift, it got ‘louder’ in terms of sensing it, such that I could feel a cascade of movement internally if I didn’t stabilize the hip. It took only a very subtle movement to correct the instability, and with practice, I could feel and ‘hear’ this while running. Before every run, I practice this one-legged posture stance, to remind my body what it feels like when it’s correct verus unstable. During running, when my knee starts ‘talking’ I just make that subtle move in my pelvic region, and it gets quiet. The proof is afterward – no IT or lateral hamstring issues, and no knee pain!
While running, all this focusing can bring on a bit of tension. To relieve that, and quiet my mind, I feel my belly expand and contract as I breathe. I don’t do anything to force the breathing (I’m running in an aerobic state, breathing through my nose only); I just watch it, like I do during a sitting meditation. By focusing on the breathing and just being a passive bystander, my mind relaxes and my body releases tension.
Relaxation is the by-product of all of the above – focusing, body sensing, and breathing. I also relax my right side and allow the right foot to make full contact with the ground behind my hips. I have a pelvic twist on the right side and this is a great way to train it to go back, taking pressure off the left knee. I know (from being videotaped) that my right heel would not come all the way down in the landing, causing more problems in the the knee and hamstring. Now I relax the achilles and heel down, giving a slight stretch to the right psoas muscle, before I lift the ankle. Again, my issues of the past have been alleviated!
By the time I am done with my run, I am fully relaxed, as if I had been sitting quietly, meditating and clearing my mind of all thought. And I am finally feeling the healing that is taking place. And all it took was the four Chi skills!