Running my life
Monday, July 05, 2010
When I am running I think about balance and breath. I am inspired by what my neighbor Danny calls Chi Running. He wrote books on it and teaches workshops that you can google. Marathoners use it as a way to stay injury free, but I am grateful for the deeper lessons, as if it were an ancient spirit practice. I haven’t studied the books, but just from running with Danny a few times, I have begun to enjoy running for the first time in my life. I like how it makes my body feel, but what I like even more is how my thinking gets a tune-up. At first it seems like a simple mindfulness practice about balance and breath. But when my mind is occupied with something so simple that bears the consequences of an eight mile loop, my thinking gets cleaner. I just scan down my body and line it up. I balance my head by keeping my chin down and back, close to my collar bone. Shoulder blades down and back, balanced and relaxed. I keep my back straight and my hips rotated under me as if I am tucking my tail. The hips are free to move in a striding motion to scoot me along, as if my legs come all the way up to my belly button. That engages core muscles that tend to last for more miles than leg muscles. I think about balancing myself up like a stack of bones so that the force of each footfall is caught by the bones instead of me having to counteract the flex at every bend in the stack. And after a few miles, all I am doing is counting my strides for each breath. Each in breath takes three steps forward, and then while I take the next two steps I push the air back out of me with the diaphragm while keeping my chest high. I focus my mind on relaxing all the muscles that don’t need to be tight while making sure that the alignment doesn’t go off. If I have the presence of mind to relax on every in breath and let the air be given to me instead of trying to take it, then I have rest time with every breath. So I scan: Head back, chin down, tail tucked, chest high, feet landing right under my center of gravity and hips moving as if my legs are like stilts and they need to be scooted along from above. If everything is right, then I glide along the road as if my stride is smooth like a wheel and there is no wasted energy. For once I’m not fighting myself. After a while my body goes by itself and there are only subtle adjustments for grade. Uphill means moving my hips as if I’m walking up little stairs on short stumps of legs. Downhill means reaching out my toes like landing gear to gently touch down on each step, and then striding with my hips to let each step travel back behind me as far as it can. The level stretch of road is the place to feel myself barely falling forward as each step lands just behind the balance point. I don’t have to propel myself down the road. All that seems to be happening is that I fall forward toward where I’m going while keeping my body aligned so that it holds itself up with very little effort. The more each part of my body is perfectly balanced over the one below it, the less muscle it takes to keep the whole stack upright. There’s no wasted energy as the force of each landing comes through the stack with every footfall. So I just scan my concentration down my body, aligning the balance all the way down. Keep the striding motion going in the hips, as if my intention comes from the very center of me. Place each foot on the road exactly under my center of gravity, or slightly behind in order to allow the body to gently fall forward. Push each breath out while the chest stays high, and relax on each in breath as if it is a gift. This checklist gives me just enough to think about that it is like not thinking at all. But the eighty minutes I spent running this morning remains a very lovely experience of time. Receiving each breath and being very happy to be alive. The scenery goes by and the road brings me home again. In so many areas of my life, I waste energy conflicted within myself, so I love that a simple way of running can bring along wisdom that sneaks in through the back door of my mind to show me that the long road doesn’t have to hurt.