ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running

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perceived rate of exertion (PRE). Your PRE is the amount of exertion you sense yourself to be doing.

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our Western culture is becoming increasingly shaped by the world of marketing, which has at its roots the mission to pull you off your center and outside yourself so that you’ll buy

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The ChiRunning mind-set teaches you to listen and focus internally rather than on arbitrary, external goals. The mind-set of ChiRunning is based on consistently establishing a clear link of communication between your mind and your body, whereby the process becomes the goal.

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In T’ai Chi one of the first things we are taught is that the best way to deal with a force is to cooperate with it, not oppose

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Whenever you’re running, your body comes under the influence of two forces acting on it: the constant downward pull of gravity, and the force of the road coming at you as you move forward.

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cooperate with the pull of gravity by letting yourself fall forward.

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When you’re leading with your upper body and relaxing your lower body, the force of the road coming your way will swing your legs for

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Making an activity a practice is a process of self-mastery. You are no longer simply practicing that activity; you use it to learn about, understand, and master yourself as well as the activity.

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The three key principles are: Needle in Cotton: alignment and relaxation Gradual Progress: the step-by-step approach Balance in Motion: physical balance and complementary balance

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The phrase “needle in cotton” describes the feeling that a T’ai Chi practitioner should have while doing the form.

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The emphasis in ChiRunning is on learning how to run from your center, and the better you get at that, the less you depend on your legs to run.

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Try this: Stand up straight, with your best posture and one foot slightly behind the other, hip width apart. Relax your shoulders and let your arms hang limp at your sides. Now pretend that your spine is a vertical axle.

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Here is a visualization to practice anytime during the day and as often as possible. Imagine a line between the top of your head and your tailbone. This is your centerline. Keep it in your mind’s eye when you are walking or running. Start by focusing on it while you’re standing still. Become friends with it and remember it. Make it as familiar as your breath. Don’t try to do anything with it. Just acknowledge it. See

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Find your center in your body. Sense your center in your feelings. See your center in your mind. Be centered in your spirit.

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ChiRunning, as in T’ai Chi, the physical balance happens in six directions: left to right, up to down, and

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spent fifteen years as a woodworker,

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My two seemingly disparate fields of interest share the same four underlying skills, which I call Chi-Skills: Focusing, Body Sensing, Breathing, and Relaxing.

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Exercise: The Mirror Exercise Stand in front of a full-length mirror. Keeping your eyes closed, position yourself with your feet parallel, your knees slightly bent, shoulders squared, arms and hands relaxed at your sides. Begin by sensing your feet on the ground and the position your feet are in. Feel your legs. Feel your

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hips. Feel your torso…your arms, hands, shoulders, and the position of your head. Imagine how you look by how your body feels to you. Spend time really feeling the position of your body. After one minute of doing this, open your eyes. Note all the differences between how you thought your body looked and how your body actually looks in the mirror. Are your feet truly parallel? Are your shoulders aligned with each other? Are your fingers straight or curved? Is your head on straight?

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THE 3 STEPS TO BODY SENSING

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have someone videotape you while you run.

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THE BODY SCAN

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three steps of Body Sensing,

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1. Listen carefully. 2. Assess the information. 3. Adjust incrementally.

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BREATHING: TAPPING INTO YOUR CHI

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The trick to building aerobic capacity is to do your long run at a conversational pace,

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Try matching up your breathing with your cadence. I usually breathe out for three steps and breathe in for two, but do what works best for you. It helps if you take more time breathing out than breathing

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Nose breathing will help you get even more out of your belly breathing. Running regularly for longer distances at a conversational pace is the ideal way to build aerobic capacity. The best way to ensure that you’re running at an aerobic pace is to nose-breathe.

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conjure the image of focused spaciousness while I’m running.

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“Relaxation is the absence of unnecessary effort.”

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It seems so much easier to do anything when you offer no resistance to doing it, especially when it’s something that you don’t like to do!

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Exercise: The 10-Second Relaxation Exercise

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The Form Focuses fall into six categories: posture, lean, lower body, pelvic rotation, upper body, and the triad of cadence, gears and stride length.

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THE SIX FORM FOCUS GROUPS Posture

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Lower Body

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fall. You do not use your legs for propulsion in any way. You don’t push off with your quads, calves, or toes and you don’t pull with your hamstrings. We call it the “passive lower leg” because your legs are used only for support between strides and nothing else.

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Pelvic Rotation

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If your pelvis does not rotate, you’ll absorb the force of the road with your knees, quads, hips, or lower back.

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Upper Body

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The counter-balance to your upper body falling forward is your elbows swinging to the rear.

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Cadence, Stride Length, and Gears

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In ChiRunning there’s one thing that never changes: your cadence.

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The Increased Use of Core Strength

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Use of the Ligaments and Tendons

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Here, again, are the six groups of Form Focuses. Posture Lean Lower body Pelvic rotation Upper body Gears, cadence, and stride length

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The Basic Rule of Alignment is this: Whenever you’re running, you should have as many of your body parts as possible moving in the same direction you’re headed.

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Here are the six sequential steps to get your posture aligned: Align your feet and legs Align your upper body by lengthening your spine Level your pelvis and engage your core Create your column The one-legged posture stance The “C” Shape

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The easiest way to check if you’re off balance in any way is to refer back to the bottoms of your feet. Are they still balanced front/back, side to side and lateral/medial? They should be.

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Posture: 5. The One-Legged Posture Stance

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Exercise: One-Legged Posture Stance Create your Column.

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Exercise: The “C” Shape

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Your job then, is to learn to balance yourself in a very slight forward lean so you’re always falling, but not on your face. I love having gravity do the work.

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Exercise: Learning How to Lean

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In summary, the three steps you should use every time you engage your lean are: Check in with your posture line. Drop your attention to the bottoms of your feet and keep your feet hitting where they are. Let your Column fall in front of where your feet are hitting. Exercise: The Window of Lean You can most definitely lean too much.

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Exercise: Build Abdominal Strength Without Moving a Muscle

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Find a table or a stationary object where you can lean against your upper quads while letting your body fall forward. Hold yourself in a straight line while maintaining a lean and you’ll get a great abdominal workout without moving a muscle.

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Exercise: Using Your Y’chi

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The next time you’re out running or walking, focus your eyes on a distant object or spot on the horizon and then run or walk toward that object without ever breaking your gaze. If you’re on a curvy trail, just choose a point you can focus on until you have to make a turn.

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Feel yourself being pulled forward by your y’chi, like a giant bungee

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The passive lower leg Swing your legs to the rear The midfoot strike

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Exercise: Pick Up Your Heels

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Exercise: Walk with Peeling Up the Foot

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Exercise: The Sand Pit Exercise

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SWING YOUR LEGS TO THE REAR

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Exercise: Knee-Bending Exercise

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A Visualization: The Wheel:

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PELVIC ROTATION

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There are two main ways runners underuse their pelvis: not rotating the pelvis while running, and not leveling the pelvis (engaging the core muscles) while running. You need to Body Sense for yourself which you are, but in general men tend to hold too much tension in their pelvic area, creating stiffness,

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THE PIVOT POINT: T12/L1

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Exercise: The Pool Running Drill

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In ChiRunning, it ain’t the muscle, it’s the motion—and the motion comes from gravity, the force of the road, and allowing your pelvis to do its job of swinging.

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Visualization: Upper and Lower Body Movement: Stable Above, Swinging Below:

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it is easier to learn pelvic rotation while walking than while running.

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If you want a pendulum to swing faster, you can either force it faster, or you can shorten it.

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to shorten your pendulum by simply bending your elbow (or knee.)

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Bend your elbows at a 90° angle and allow your arms to swing from your shoulders in a relaxed way.

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Focus on the tips of your elbows

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Swing your arms to the rear

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Swinging your elbows to the rear creates a counter-balance to the forward lean of your body.

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your fingers should come back to your ribs (figure 45) and your elbows should come forward only to your ribs

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Don’t cross your centerline with your hands.

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Relax your hands.

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Keep your shoulders low and relaxed

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Let your elbows pass close to your ribs. This helps your neck and shoulders to relax.

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Shoulders always face forward. Don’t swing your shoulders. Pretend that your shoulders are like the two headlights of a car

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Lengthen the back of your neck

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Be sure to look around when you run.

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GEARS, CADENCE, AND STRIDE LENGTH

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In running you change gears by changing your stride length. The faster you go, the higher the gear, and in the case of running it means leaning more and increasing the length of your stride. When you run slowly (in a low gear), you should have a very short stride.

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What doesn’t change is your cadence, the rate at which your feet touch the ground.

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In essence, your legs aren’t working harder as you run faster. In fact, the more you can allow your entire lower body to swing from the Pivot Point, the faster you will go.

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Gears in a Nutshell Slower speed = less lean = shorter stride = lower gear Higher speed = more lean = longer stride = higher gear As you lean your body forward, your stride opens up out the back Cadence always remains the same

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If you’re leaning too much, you’ll be off balance and your lower leg muscles will engage to hold you in your lean. Always work to balance yourself in your lean so that your lower legs can remain relaxed.

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you run with a waltz tempo and have the metronome beep every third stride.

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1. Begin by practicing your posture stance.

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2. Next, find something to lean against and do your leaning exercise to remind yourself what it feels like to fall forward.

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3. Walk around for a few minutes to practice picking up your feet.

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HOW TO START YOUR RUN Stand with your best posture and set up your Column. Practice a few one-legged posture stances on each leg before taking off. Bend your arms to 90° and relax your shoulders. Begin running slowly with a very short stride length. Your elbows should be swinging gently to the rear. (Run so slow that your breath rate hardly increases.) Once you begin running, pretend that you’re not running.

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FOCUS LIST Here is a complete list of focuses to refer back to before heading out on a run. Pick one or two for every workout.

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suspended disbelief, or in Buddhist terms, beginner’s mind.

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or big mountain whose peak we must see. LEARNING

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Set aside twenty to thirty minutes every other day. The

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If you’re a beginning runner, start off by working mostly on your form and then slowly add distance.

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This is not any different from how a meditation instructor would teach you to meditate. If you’re sitting and observing your breath, that’s your focus; whenever you find your mind wandering, you drop what you’re thinking about and return to your breath.

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We have logs available on the ChiRunning website.

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When I told the Chinese woman behind the counter what I wanted, she took one look at the running shoes I had on and said, “I don’t understand why you Westerners wear shoes like that…all they do is make your feet stupid.”

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The hourly beeper is a reminder throughout the day to stop and check in, with posture, with Body Sensing, with ourselves. If you know you slouch at your desk, it can be a reminder to sit up straight. Use it to drink water, take a two-minute computer break—whatever is going to help you most.

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It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop. —CONFUCIUS

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The reason steep hills are so tiring is that keeping your heels down is difficult. Many people run up steep hills on their toes to prevent their Achilles tendons from overstretching. This overworks your shins and calves because you’re using the smaller muscles of your legs to do a larger portion of the work, not the most efficient way to get yourself up a hill.

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There’s a way around this scenario: run sideways.

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you find yourself holding tension anywhere in your legs, gather to your center and let any tension flow right down into the dirt with each stride you take.

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Practice running barefoot. Run barefoot for a few minutes at a time to break any habit of heel striking. This helps you become aware of how you are landing on your feet so that you can Body Sense better when you have shoes on.

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The beginning holds the seed of all that is to follow. —I CHING

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Do not stretch before you run, stretching before you run can cause muscle pulls.

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Pain in your knees is an indication that you need to shorten your stride, land more on your midfoot, or correct an overpronation problem.

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Pain is your body’s way of telling you to change how you’re moving.

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Master Xu tells me that wherever you experience pain, your chi is blocked. If you can align, relax, and loosen the area that is painful, the chi will again flow through the area and help the pain to subside.

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If you hold your shoulders too high, relax them by

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To reestablish your arm swing, bend your arms at a right angle and focus on your elbows swinging rearward,

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Focus on keeping your pelvis level, front to back and side to side. This will solve most IT band problems. Level your pelvis in between runs as well.

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Keep your legs limp from the knees down as a constant, ongoing practice whenever you’re walking or running.

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Other causes of PF are:

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Walking barefoot in soft sand for long distances if your feet are not used to

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this messaging system is altered in any way, our brain won’t get a clear message of how to move our body correctly. This is one reason why many physical therapists nowadays are having their clients walk barefoot in order to reeducate their bodies into correct movement patterns after an injury. It’s also the reason why I believe the Kenyans and other East Africans are such beautiful runners.

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Exercise: Strengthening and Stretching the Feet

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Ankle-strengthening exercise.

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Ankle rolls.

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Scrunching a towel or picking up marbles with your toes.

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Roll the sole of your foot over a golf ball.

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Spread your toes

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Plantar stretch.

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Ankle stretch.

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Walk or run barefoot.

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it’s much better to run or walk on a hard surface, as this will allow your feet to educate the movement of your upper body.

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Dorsiflex if you are sitting

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Asphalt running. When you’re out on your training runs, imagine yourself running on thin ice, and that will train you to run with a soft foot strike.

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using the ChiRunning principles for your swimming, I highly recommend Total Immersion Swimming developed by Terry Laughlin.

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The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials. —LIN YU-TANG

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As the principle says, gather to your center (my intentions around weekly cheese amounts) and let go of all else (the other times during the week that I crave cheese).

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Anytime you gather to your center, you gather chi and build inner strength.

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Needle in Cotton

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T’ai Chi is based on the principle of Needle in Cotton, which means moving and living from one’s center.

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If you want to build a center, practice bringing your attention to the spine all day long.

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When you feel centered in yourself, with the confidence that years of mindful living produce, you are freed up to live your life creatively while keeping to your practice. You are externally consistent with the actions that allow you to live a rich life while staying internally free. It’s all about enjoying the process of growth and not being overfocused on results.

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Terry Laughlin, Total Immersion Swimming and ChiRunning are like twin sons of different mothers and we appreciate how you have led the way in the trend of intelligent movement. It is mind-boggling how closely Total Immersion Swimming and ChiRunning are aligned at their core levels.