Try chi run­ning

MIND­FUL MOVES

Project Calm - - Contents -

Think of run­ning and what comes to mind? Gasp­ing for air? Bruised and bat­tered feet? Mem­o­ries of splodg­ing through fields dur­ing dreaded school cross- coun­try runs? Or per­haps sen­sa­tions of in­ner peace? Or feel­ings of mov­ing with grace and ease? For many, run­ning is used as a form of med­i­ta­tion.

Many find the more tra­di­tional ap­proach to med­i­ta­tion – sit­ting still with the eyes closed – ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, thus writ­ing med­i­ta­tion off as some­thing that’s ‘not for them’. The great news is that there are al­ter­na­tives, with ‘mov­ing med­i­ta­tion’ be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar and ‘mind­ful run­ning’ be­com­ing the pre­ferred choice for many.

But what is mind­ful run­ning? Of­ten called Chi run­ning, it's a con­cept that en­cour­ages a mind­ful ap­proach, its ethos be­ing that when we run with less ef­fort, it be­comes more en­joy­able and a life­long prac­tice. Think of it as a sur­pris­ingly com­ple­men­tary blend of Far East­ern wis­dom and Western sports sci­ence: ap­ply­ing the prin­ci­ples of East­ern move­ment prac­tices, such as tai chi, to run­ning. This means mov­ing with aware­ness: for ex­am­ple, notic­ing the sen­sa­tions as each foot makes con­tact with the ground, feel­ing the thigh­bones as they glide in the hip sock­ets, fo­cussing on good pos­ture by length­en­ing the spine, be­com­ing aware of the breath.

Lucy Jecza­lik, a Lon­don-based mind­ful run­ning coach, tells of a client who used mind­ful run­ning to help man­age her stress lev­els. “When I started work­ing with Carla, even her nor­mal breath­ing pat­tern was ir­reg­u­lar and rapid, there­fore, be­fore we even thought about run­ning we worked on us­ing the breath to get her back in touch with her body.”

De­vel­op­ing a good breath­ing tech­nique plays a key part in most forms of med­i­ta­tion, as the sim­ple ac­tion of tak­ing longer, deeper breaths has an im­me­di­ate, calm­ing ef­fect on the ner­vous sys­tem. This is achieved by a shift to the parasym­pa­thetic sys­tem – also known as the ‘rest and di­gest’ state – prompt­ing pleas­ant sen­sa­tions of re­lax­ation.

By run­ning mind­fully, we main­tain aware­ness of the breath through­out, with the aim of keep­ing it con­trolled and steady. This aware­ness means we’re able to recog­nise when the breath be­gins to quicken or be­come shal­low, know­ing when to pull back to a more man­age­able pace – walk­ing if need be – un­til the breath re­turns to some­thing more nat­u­ral and com­fort­able.

Lucy con­tin­ues: “Ob­serv­ing the breath as an il­lus­tra­tion of how the body copes with stress – phys­i­cal, men­tal, or emo­tional – is an age- old route to mind­ful­ness and med­i­ta­tion. I find work­ing with the breath to be par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when work­ing with clients, as not only does it help unite the mind and body, but it also serves as a key in­di­ca­tor for be­ing re­laxed and in con­trol.”

What next for Carla? “We fo­cused on main­tain­ing a re­laxed pat­tern of breath­ing, grad­u­ally pro­gress­ing from walk­ing to run­ning. The re­sults were in­cred­i­ble. She soon be­gan to feel strong, com­fort­able and in con­trol of her breath­ing and phys­i­cal pos­ture for en­tire ses­sions. This is what we call the f low state – the ul­ti­mate mind­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Mind­ful run­ning isn’t lim­ited to aware­ness of the phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions we ex­pe­ri­ence as we move, it also en­cour­ages us to take in what’s go­ing on around us. Notic­ing sounds; the

Like jog­ging but with more soul. Si­mone Scott shares the benefits of this new ex­er­cise tech­nique.

happy song of chirp­ing birds, the de­light­ful crunch of leaves be­neath our feet, or the cool­ing sen­sa­tions of a gen­tle breeze against our skin. As with so many other ac­tiv­i­ties, we’re of­ten so caught up in our thoughts, or keen to get it over and done with, that we barely re­mem­ber what we have done or where we have been. Run­ning in a mind­ful way en­ables us to tap in to the pre­sent mo­ment, en­sur­ing we soak up the full ex­pe­ri­ence and savour ev­ery step.

All of this can have a pow­er­ful knock- on ef­fect on our every­day lives, as achiev­ing a more re­laxed phys­i­cal state equips us to bet­ter deal with stres­sors. The qual­ity of our sleep im­proves, as does our di­ges­tion, not to men­tion brighter skin and an over­all sense of im­proved well­be­ing.

Pa­trick Karanti­nos is an Athens-based tai chi and mind­ful­ness stu­dent and teacher who has spent the last 20 years hon­ing his skills in East­ern method­olo­gies. This wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence has taught him that ap­ply­ing tai chi prin­ci­ples to mov­ing can make even the most phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, such as run­ning, a gen­tler ex­pe­ri­ence. He ad­vises “avoid­ing lock­ing the joints, keep­ing the body re­laxed and be­com­ing aware of the breath, fo­cus­ing on the pre­sent mo­ment. Ap­ply­ing th­ese prin­ci­ples to run­ning makes it smoother and less tir­ing for the body. All in all, you gain much more than a sim­ple car­dio work­out. Mind­fully ob­serve your­self and find a nat­u­ral way of mov­ing. If you un­der­stand that then run­ning can be­come a joy in it­self”.

Mind­ful run­ning holds ap­peal across all walks of life, in­tro­duc­ing many who would never con­sider them­selves a run­ner to a form of ex­er­cise that can elicit in­stant, yet lon­glast­ing feel­ings of joy and calm­ness. More ex­pe­ri­enced run­ners are also be­ing drawn to the ap­proach, with many choos­ing to aban­don their (of­ten stress-in­duc­ing) gad­gets to en­able them to truly tune in to the sen­sa­tions of run­ning, as op­posed to re­ly­ing on tech­nol­ogy to as­sess the fruits of their labour.

Nick Con­stan­tine from Soul in Mo­tion is a mind­ful run­ning coach and long-time yoga prac­ti­tioner, who po­et­i­cally describes run­ning as “... the joy of be­ing, breath and si­lence”. Nick ex­plains how he helps his clients to har­ness that joy and the benefits of do­ing so by keep­ing things sim­ple; “Find sim­plic­ity, rather than adding com­plex ac­tions, the­o­ries or de­scrip­tions.” He speaks of one client – an ex­pe­ri­enced marathon run­ner – who recog­nised it was time to change his ap­proach: “Ten­sion and stress were clearly man­i­fest­ing them­selves in the move­ment pat­tern of his whole body...” Nick worked with the athlete to re­turn to a more sim­ple and nat­u­ral way of mov­ing. The re­sult? “The dif­fer­ence was clear and strik­ing, he was re­laxed, yet pow­er­ful, soft and strong with an ease of move­ment. He re­gained his love for run­ning and that was such a joy to see.”

So, a form of ex­er­cise that can im­prove our emo­tional, men­tal and phys­i­cal health, with no tar­gets, no gad­gets and no pres­sure? All this, while build­ing strong foun­da­tions for longterm self im­prove­ment, self- dis­cov­ery, and the op­por­tu­nity to dis­cover that run­ning can be­come a joy in it­self. Cer­tainly worth a try­ing a mind­ful step to see if it works for you!

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