A couple of years ago I came across an intriguing book titled Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer. Although I was training for a marathon that summer, I was more enticed by the use of Chi in Dreyer’s title than the latter verb. Unfortunately I did not experience the injury-free part of chi running while hitting fifty plus miles a week; I wound up with a double hairline fracture in my left foot.
Luckily this road did not have a dead-end, and I came away with three lessons chi running teaches that have expanded my running regimen. First I learned the importance of midfoot striking (especially for long distance runners). I also discovered the practice of bodily alignment; however, the most valuable seed chi running planted in my mind is the practice of breath/mind awareness while running.
There are three main areas where runners’ feet strike: forefoot, midfoot, and heelfoot. By becoming aware of my running strike, I noticed a trend of forefoot striking during longer runs and heelfoot striking during sprint workouts. Besides my hairline fractures, I also had problems with my lumbar back and meniscus pain in my right knee. I began running with the intention of midfoot striking. The intention was challenging at first – old habits die hard. Furthermore, my running times slowed down, so my ego died hard with my foot strikes. A close friend of mine, who happens to be an ultra marathon runner, knew exactly what I needed to help the transition, a pair of Newton Trainers. These shoes are advantageous because extra cushion is on the midfoot, versus the heelfoot like most running shoes; ergo, Newton’s naturally support as well as enhance midfoot striking.
Midfoot striking allows me to find better bodily alignment while running. In asana yoga the foundation standing posture is Tadasana (mountain pose). In preparation for tadasana awareness begins with the feet, making sure weight is distributed evenly amongst all points of the feet. Awareness then glides up to the ankles, hips, and shoulders. By simply bringing the major joints into order, one has better posture and skeletal alignment. Bodily alignment, coupled with midfoot striking, has made my runs more comfortable. Consequently, it has also tremendously improved my back and knee difficulties.
Good running posture does not only help the physical body, it also helps with the chi or prana body (the pranamaya kosha in yoga). The Chi Running phenomenon inspired my practice of breath awareness during running, yet as a yoga instructor my knowledge of vitality is rooted within the concept of prana found in the Hatha Yoga tradition rather than the concept of qi within TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Pranayama, yogic breathing techniques, are just as essential to yoga practice as asana postures. In order to focus my mind before a run, I practice deep breathing on the way to the park. By making my exhaled breath twice as long as my inhale, I imagine my pranic body being prepped for the run. Before beginning my run I take Tadasana, finding my posture. The first 108 breathes of my run I use as Japa (repetitive mantra) meditation, simply using OM on the exhale. Through warming up the mind and breath, my running practice becomes a place to revitalize pranic energy rather than waste it.
This blog entry does not aim at getting you to look at a book, buy a new pair of running shoes, or participate in a yoga class; however, I hope these ideas inspire you to not only reconsider where your mind is during physical activity, but also to see the connections you can find in your own life. Instead of seeing running and yoga as two distinct activities, I have added depth to both practices through understanding the connections between the two. Just as a lamp will not turn on without being plugged into the wall, our mind/body will not light up unless we connect it to its prana or qi.