Run Safely with Tai Chi
The desire to avoid injury and continue running as we age has spurred a new approach to the sport. One popular technique is ChiRunning, a practice in which the physcial alignments and mind-body awareness of Tai Chi Chuan are integrated into the run. Chi runners, like Tai chi practitioners are in constant conversation with their mind and body, allowing their mind to relax their muscles and noticing what their body is saying to their mind. Practitioners of these arts use their brains more and their bodies less and as in swimming downstream, relaxation is the tool, efficiency the result.
Borrowing from the basic ideas of Tai Chi, ChiRunning utilizes mental awareness, physical alignment, gravity and the physics of movement to accomplish its aims. It focuses on posture, leg swing and location of the pelvis and explains how awareness connects them all together.
Ultra-marathon runner, Danny Dryer, developed ChiRunning after years of experimentation. He says that a light lit up in his brain after he took a Tai Chi class, learned to relax, use his mind to feel his body and let his limbs follow his core. When he applied these basic internal arts concepts to his running trials, he was amazed by the difference.
Katherine Hobson (Wall Street Journal Health and Medicine reporter) wondered about ChiRunning, took a class and was surprised to learn that the run is only the end of the process. her lesson began by helping her to align her feet, continued upward to straighten her spine and relax her chest, raised her head and dropped her mind downward with the flow of gravity. She learned to rest her torso on a stable, balanced pelvis, align her knees and metatarsals, allow gravity to flow through her legs to the ground and check her posture by looking at her feet (you can see your shoelaces when you are correct). It felt strange, but good when she put it all together and to check her responses called two tri-athletes and asked them about the ChiRunning workshops they had taken a few years earlier.
Frank Lee, after becoming such a running grump that his wife told him to find new hobby, says he’s enjoying the sport again, thanks both to the technical tips and the chi philosophy. ''It made me focus more on the mechanics and purity of the running.'' Mark Seale replied that the philosophy angle left him cold but the technical tips were invaluable. ''For the same effort, I’m not necessarily a lot faster, but at the end of the run, I'm not nearly as tired,'' he said.
Tai Chi and ChiRunning practitioners say that their joints improved and they felt better and more energized after adding the principles of the internal arts to their runs. Susan Rabinowitz, director of New York City's Taoist Arts Center is not surprised. ''The principles of Tai Chi are universal” she says, ”Their addition can make almost any exercise more efficient, healthier and fun.”
These reports are anecdotal, but researchers are impressed and believe the method deserves more study
Dr. Rick Hecht, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, is a distance runner who was intrigued by the promise of a more relaxed running form. ”I could do my long runs, but I would feel pretty beat up afterward, sore in my muscles, joints would feel really stressed,” he said. Then he learned ChiRunning and says running is no longer painful. ”I feel like I could run the same distances I was running before, but it is easier and it feels much better, particularly when I run long distances.''
Dr. Hecht is in the midst of a diet and fitness study of about 200 people that includes Chi Walking. His personal experience sparked an interest in a scientific study of the method and the planned pilot study designed to see whether ChiRunning has benefits for blood pressure will now include several new tests as well as a measure of foot-strike forces.
Sports physiologists have long known that there is a huge connection between awareness and running. the research is clear, says Tom Holland, MS sports performance coach, and lecturer for the American Running Association. Studies show that when athletes dissociate, when they listen to music on their headphones, they do not do as well. Many runners want to think of anything but the running, But our thoughts literally change our physiologic reactions.
Like anything worthwhile, ChiRunning takes time to incorporate. Practice at least once a week. Think about balance and posture and make adjustments as you run. Stay relaxed and move efficiently. You may not be faster, but you will most likely feel better and be active for many years to come.
The information in this original report was found at
Finding a Sustainable Running Stride, by Tara Parker-Pope, June 25, 2012
Might Chi Running Improve my Form, by Katherine Hobson
5 Elements of ChiRunning, by Katherine Hobson
Mindful Chi Running, Charlotte Grayson Mathis MD.