The Next Step to Effortless Running and Walking

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Whether you’re trying to get more speed or more efficiency out of your body, here’s a great way to enhance any ChiRunning or ChiWalking focuses. This process can pull together all you’ve been learning in ChiRunning and ChiWalking and bring your technique to a whole new level.

Alignment Matters… in walking as well as running

In ChiRunning and ChiWalking we practice getting aligned. Alignment applies to many aspects of these techniques:

  • Your posture is aligned with a straight line between your shoulders, hipbones and ankles
  • Your left and right sides are aligned and moving symmetrically
  • Every part of your body is aligned in the direction you are headed
  • Your upper body doesn’t sway side-to-side
  • Your hips don’t move laterally as your foot hits the ground
  • Your body does not bounce up and down
  • Your arms don’t cross your centerline
  • Your legs and feet are pointed forward as they swing
  • Your goals need to be in alignment with your own potential and desires, and not with other people’s ideas of what you should do.

What happens when you get fully aligned can be nothing less than amazing. Our clients write regularly of that feeling of floating, or flying, or feeling free.

Directional Alignment for Highly Efficient Movement

We have one more component to add to alignment that helps pull it all together. Align your eyes with your destination. It sounds too simple to be meaningful, but you’ll quickly see (and feel) how amazingly effective it is.

In T’ai Chi, it is called Y’chi (pronounced ee-chee). It is best to understand y’chi with the example of a cat hunting its prey. I’m sure you’ve seen a cat that has just spotted a nearby bird. The cat fixes its gaze on its prey and seems to become frozen in place. Then, without breaking its gaze, the cat begins to slowly and quietly creep towards the bird in a motion that can only be describes as “a cat doing T’ai Chi.” It’s limbs are soft and its feet seem to be touching the ground ever so softly, so as to not make a sound. The one thing that doesn’t change is the visual contact the cat keeps with the bird. That’s Y’chi. The visual focus of the cat is informing the cat’s body how to move. It’s not a thought process for the cat. The cat’s Y’chi is what is “pulling” the cat towards the bird.

All the great athletes utilize Y’chi whether they know it or not.  In soccer the players never takes their eyes off the ball. In hockey it’s the puck. It’s the same in baseball. When Tiger Woods stands over his golf ball, he first looks at his goal, and then looks down at the ball, and before he begins his swing, he gathers all the focus he can muster on all levels. And then, while holding all that focus, he begins his swing and does not take his eyes off the ball until his club makes contact with it. That’s Y’chi.

Katherine just came back from her run and told me she was practicing her Y’chi during the entire run. She remarked to me how quickly and effortlessly her run went by. It was over before she knew it, and with very little effort on her part.

You can do the same thing to run or walk more effortlessly and efficiently.

Here is how to do it:

The next time you’re out running or walking, focus your eyes on a distant object or spot on the horizon and then run or walk towards that object without ever breaking your gaze.  Or, choose a point 50 or 100 meters in front of you. If you’re on a curvy trail, just choose something that is as far in front of you as you can. Play with the distance.

Focus on that spot intently, with your eyes. Don’t break visual connection.

If you are in the early stages of practicing ChiRunning, keep in mind your good posture and keeping your core engaged. But, as you master the technique, you’ll want to Body Sense your whole body being aligned and all of that focused energy coming out of your eyes toward your goal. Your Y’chi will help you naturally fall into greater alignment. Your whole body will follow the direction of your eyes.

Feel yourself being pulled forward by your Y’chi, like a giant bungee cord.

Think of Spiderman shooting a strand of spider web out from his hand. He sends it out to stick to the building in front of him and then allows the strand to pull him forward through the air. It’s a neat trick, but you can do the same thing with your eyes and without having to wear a silly costume.

The bottom line, is that your eyes are directing the movement. Chi is the energy that circulates through your body and supports your movement. “Y” is your intent to direct your chi towards a visual “goal” through the use of your eyes. So, y’chi is the skill of directing all of the energies and movement in your body through the focus of your eyes.

Here’s an exercise to help you learn to apply Y’chi to your running while also practicing The Knee Bending exercise. I’ve been teaching The Knee Bending exercise in classes for years now, using Y’chi, and the results have been remarkable.

The Knee Bending exercise is a good exercise to get a very clear feeling of how easy it is to run by simply falling forward while bending their knees and that there is no push-off needed by your legs.

The Knee Bending Exercise

The Knee Bending exercise is in the ChiRunning book (pg. 168-171) and also on the ChiRunning DVD. There are three successive steps to this exercise.

  1. In the first stage you are directed to run in place while simply picking up your heels by bending your knees.
  2. In the second stage, you are asked to continue the first stage, plus add in a lean, which moves you forward.
  3. In the third phase of the exercise, you begin by running in place and then adding in your lean. After a few strides you swing your arms to the rear while continuing to lean your body forward, bending your knees the whole time.

Now, I add this new step:

Before you do the third step, while standing in place, focus your eyes on some spot or object in the distance. Focus your vision on this point as if you were a guided missile, and don’t break your gaze from the time you begin moving forward, until you stop. Allow your visual connection with your “goal” to pull your body forward while you’re moving through all the steps of the knee-bending exercise.

Y’chi is all about combining your knowledge of what needs to happen with your intention and using your eyes to direct all that energy in the direction your body’s heading. To add even more power to this, visualize your body filled with energy coursing through every part of it. Then, gather all that energy along with your own intent, and direct it out through your eyes and send it forward to a point or object in the distance, without ever breaking your visual connection.

Practicing your Y’chi will always leave you feeling energized and clear-headed because your mind becomes so focused on your goal. When you can maintain unbroken visual contact with an object or goal, it leaves little room for your mind to be doing any of its normal antics of following every thought that comes into your consciousness.

Y’chi happens when everything is aligned your body, your vision, your forward movement, your mind and your heart.

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"Running doesn't hurt your body. It's the way you run that causes pain" -Danny Dreyer, author and founder of ChiRunning

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