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What Is Chi Running?

Posted: 01/06/11 12:31 PM ET

Does your back hurt? Or your neck? Or your hip? Or your knee? Or your ankle? Have you had to give up running or hiking?

What went wrong? Let's start with your potential: Your body is a superb shock-absorber. A whole series of interrelated parts are designed to transmit shock waves up through the system. Feet. Ankles. Knees. Hips. Diaphragm. Spine.

When you use your body as it was designed, it works. But it has to be a team effort. There has to be a flow of force upward through your body.

That's the bad news: When your shock-absorbers don't work as a team, some parts work too hard, other parts don't work at all. If one part of your shock-absorption system hurts, it's because other parts don't do their share.

So does your back hurt? Some other part is slacking off. Feet, ankles, knees, hips, diaphragm -- or some combination of the above. Somewhere, the team is not working.

Perhaps your back is fine, and another part of your body hurts? Same problem. Something else is missing from the equation.

So how do you get all the shock absorbers to work in tandem? Consider Chi Running -- or Chi Walking. You may have heard of these techniques, but what are they? The simplest but most comprehensive explanation is this: We move like people who grew up barefoot.

And there's a funny thing about going barefoot: It changes everything. The feet open up. The toes start to do their job. The knees relax. The hips rock correctly. The spine becomes more pliant. The head lifts up. Even the arms start to swing the way they're supposed to.

It's not just about the feet. Everything moves in a smooth, easy flow. Every part of the body works as a team.

Sound familiar? I mentioned this same "team" at the beginning of this article. Your whole body is a "team" of shock-absorbers working in a beautifully interactive system. If all the parts of the system work together, you avoid injury. If they don't, you may get hurt.

After all, what is Chi? A lot of people translate this Chinese word as "life energy." But frankly, that often leads Western people to indulge in lots of dreamy philosophizing. I get tired of that.

So I like something more down to earth. I prefer the definition flow. My Chinese herbalist uses this definition. More practical. Follow the flow, you are more likely to do great things. Block the flow, you could potentially hurt yourself. It's that simple.

Want to learn more? You can buy a book. There's "ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running" or "ChiWalking: Fitness Walking for Lifelong Health and Energy" both by Danny Dreyer.

But frankly, these books contain a lot of theory: evolution, martial arts, Taoism. I love this stuff, but maybe it's not for you. If you're interested there are DVDs on how to get started with Chi walking or running. There are also lessons if you want more instruction.

In this post-Holiday season, be generous to yourself. This brings me (very briefly) to the subject of shoes. Obviously, we can't always go around barefoot. But we can buy shoes that imitate the feel -- and the opportunities -- of being barefoot. A radical option is described in an excellent Huffington Post article by Tim Ferriss, "The Barefoot Alternative: Vibram Five Fingers Shoes."

But wait! Whoa! Is this stuff for real? Where's the science? Well, a recent Harvard University study strongly affirms the efficiency of barefoot-style movement, as well as the idea that this method decreases injury.

Also, Professor Daniel Lieberman, main author of this study, coauthored an earlier study linking barefoot running techniques to the deep evolution of the human species. Two million years of distance running have shaped us profoundly -- if we move correctly.

Let me finish with this: Many people imagine that Chi moving is limited to improving athletic performance. Not true. Yes, Chi running and walking may improve how you move. But I don't just mean how you move when you run a race or hike up a mountain. I mean how you move every day.

For example, how will you walk when you get up from reading this article? Even if you're just walking to the fridge? That's what counts.

So if you study Chi running or walking, you can apply it to daily life. That's where change begins and ends. And your sports performance? That's icing on the cake.

 

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