A while back, I was doing some pretty intense HIIT training and quite a bit of running during my morning routine. I was working on building my aerobic endurance for kickboxing.
After about 12 weeks of this type of training, I noticed that the heels of my feet would really hurt when I woke up, first thing in the morning. The pain continued as time went on and eventually it got to the point where it became hard to exercise or even walk.
I ended up seeing a podiatrist, who quickly diagnosed me with plantar fasciitis, a foot injury common among runners that happens when the tendon leading under the foot becomes inflamed and painful. The Doctor prescribed some pain meds, a pair of foot inserts, and a special brace for me to wear at night.
I was okay with his treatment until he told me that I wouldn’t be able to run anymore.
Now, I’ve never been a really competitive runner, but it’s always been a part of my exercise routine to run a few miles as a warm up and also to clear my mind for training. I’d been running since Middle School and it just didn’t feel right to give it up.
I started searching the internet for ways to deal with this injury and found a group of barefoot runners. These are people who run without shoes and rely on special running techniques to protect their feet from injury. Without shoes, they are compelled to run very deliberately, making sure that only the proper areas of their feet come in contact with the ground.
After giving my feet some time to heal, I began to try the barefoot running technique and quickly became hooked: I found that without shoes, I could learn to run more naturally and with greater awareness.
I started slowly, running first on grass before eventually building up to pavement. As I improved, I continued to search for and practice everything I could find on natural running techniques. That’s when I discovered the book that changed everything for me; Danny Dreyer’s ChiRunning.
(Now, I need to mention that Chi Running IS NOT about running barefoot. Danny Dreyer recommends his techniques are practiced in proper running shoes. –Now, I still like to run barefoot because it feels very natural and forces me to stay honest to the technique.)
Danny Dreyer’s insights into both running and T’ai Chi are actually quite amazing…
What is Chi Running?
Of course the title was the first thing that attracted me to this book. I was intrigued by the fact that Danny Dreyer was able to take principles from the art of T’ai Chi and apply them successfully to the sport of running.
By using T’ai Chi principles, Danny was able to develop a series of techniques, or focuses, that can allow people to run almost effortlessly for long distances without fear of injury. I know that it’s a heavy claim, but by practicing the techniques from his book, I was able to go from having difficulty walking to finishing a pleasant 8 mile run. (I usually only run about 3 miles/5K; not because I can’t run further, but simply because I prefer to use my training time for other types of activities.)
Here’s a short video from the Chi Running YouTube Channel that describes how his technique works to keep runners injury free.
Dreyer starts out his book by laying out his philosophical foundations for Chi Running. This is probably a bit slow for anyone who’s anxious to start learning his techniques, but believe me, this part is good stuff!
In fact, you might be thinking, “Hey, I’m a T’ai Chi practitioner, not a runner. What’s this got to do with me???”
The truth is that the principles, concepts, and techniques that he describes are useful for running, useful for T’ai Chi, and most of all, useful for Life!
Take the first chapter for example, where Dreyer talks about ‘Power Running’, where the runner plods forward, wasting valuable energy, stressing the body, and eventually succumbing to injury all in an effort to get just a little bit further, just a little bit faster.
He compares it the the principle centered, synchronized, efficient ‘Chi Running,’ that feels almost effortless by comparison and leaves the runner feeling refreshed and relaxed even after the run.
He isn’t only talking about running here. -He’s talking about Life.
Done correctly, T’ai Chi teaches us to leave tension and stress behind so that we can live our lives to their fullest.
Read correctly, Dreyer’s book isn’t just about running technique; it’s also a great instruction course for the practice of T’ai Chi, and a brilliant Self-Help Manual all rolled into one. This is what makes this book one of my favorite T’ai Chi books of all time.
And he doesn’t stop there. Dreyer goes on to discuss the ‘Inner’ skills, or ‘Chi Skills’ as he calls them, that are discussed again and again here at EmbraceT’aiChi.com.
He goes on to describe a variety of ‘Focuses’ that cover posture, breathing, body alignment, and movements, that are important to both his running technique and the art of T’ai Chi.
His ‘Focuses’ are excellent and there are many useful hints to be found in their chapter.
For example, one ongoing problem for me is a tendency to lift (tense) my shoulders as I move my arms during the form. I’ve tried several different techniques to keep my shoulders relaxed, but nothing seemed to consistently help until I learned this one trick from his Posture Focus.
Here’s a short video that describes how to perform the Focus…
Once I learned to concentrate on lengthening the back of my neck into proper alignment, my shoulders naturally rolled back into a perfectly relaxed position. Problem Solved!
Dreyer’s book is a fantastic manual for anyone trying to improve their running form. It’s even better for people who happen to have some understanding of T’ai Chi principles and want to explore the art from a different perspective.
However, the book’s true brilliance comes from Dreyer’s ability to take the T’ai Chi principles and apply them to a completely different activity. After all, isn’t that what T’ai Chi is really about?
Dreyer gives us a glimpse into his T’ai Chi philosophy during the Introduction, where he writes…
“ChiRunning is not about being an accomplished runner. It’s about what you come away with. It’s about learning how to listen to your body and adjust appropriately to improve your form and enhance your performance. It’s learning how to sense your body, your actions, and the results of your actions; how to learn from what you do and how you feel. It’s learning how to use running as a vehicle to discover yourself on many levels…
…Chi Running is not so much about running as it is about the chi. It’s about having a focused and energetic relationship with your body. It means learning how to be your own best friend, teacher, and guide — how to be mindful, quiet, and energetic all at the same time.”
To me, this is what the T’ai Chi Movement is all about.