ChiRunning, by Danny Dreyer. To be fair, it's been almost two weeks since my last run and it's not like I ever ran regularly to begin with; this was also the first time I bothered walking all the way to the track at the Schenley Oval, so that I'd have a relatively level place to run instead of contending with the hills in my local neighborhood, Squirrel Hill (who saw that coming?)....
...With all those concessions covered, however, the T'ai Chi techniques do seem to make running not only less tiring, but more enjoyable. Again, perhaps it's just because I have no other regular running experience to compare it to, but it still seemed that there was a remarkable difference. I felt much more relaxed and focused during my run, rather than distracted by the Critical Meanie in my mind and her constant stream of insults, put-downs and comparisons to other runners who are much fatter or much older than I am but who could still kick my ass to next Tuesday without breaking a sweat. Instead, during today's run I worked on using the technique Dreyer calls "Body Sensing," which is really as simple as paying attention to the sensations and needs of your body and making incremental adjustments in response. Body Sensing is a method or process of improving the communication between your body and your mind, which is of particular importance to me from a spiritual perspective.
In the first entry of my new ChiRunning Log, I answered some of the book's basic questions to assess my current physical and mental state (in order to identify my goals and develop a program to help me achieve them). One question that I pondered a while is, why do I want to run, anyway?
Among other concerns (like keeping my body healthy and well cared-for, developing a habit of enjoyable exercise as I grow older and lose my natural youthful energy (and metabolism!), and strengthening and toning my muscles), I'm interested in using running as a way to expand my current meditative practices. AODA Druidry, in particular, is big on "movement meditation" as a way of bringing the mind and body into alignment, balance and more open communication and integration with one another. Many members of the Order practice some form of martial arts or yoga, and I've always included hillwalking as part of my spiritual practice. But I've also noticed that sometimes, I just get the urge to run, or to dance, or to express the lightness of being that I sense or receive from Spirit... and usually, my body can't keep up. So really, what I would like is to bring my body up to speed, to make it a better vehicle and vessel for Spirit, and to sustain that kind of joyous expression of the physical being for longer periods of time, whether as a form of worship and prayer, or as a method of inducing trance or other directed ritual work.
I think this book works perfectly with these particular goals, since Dreyer spends a great deal of time discussing some of the basic spiritual principles (though he doesn't use the word "spiritual" but once) of mind/body communication and focus. He emphasizes the idea that when the goal is one and the same with the process, they help to reinforce one another. When the goal is something external--whether competing in a certain race, keeping up with a loved one or family pet, or trying to look good in a swimsuit--then you're more likely to try to rush through the process to reach that end. Sloppiness, stumbling blocks and even injury can result. But if your goal for running is to increase your ability to focus, to relax, to breathe more deeply and to move with greater ease and better posture--then the process is the goal. So every time you go out to run, you're working on the goal itself, and it becomes a continual engaged activity. You run not because running will get you something else, but because running is the end itself, the process whereby you develop and utilize these techniques.
It's similar to the way I think about writing. I don't write merely in order to get a certain number of words down on paper (or online), or to complete any particular essay, poem or book manuscript, or even necessarily to communicate ideas or information to others (no offense, dear reader). I write because I love the process of writing itself. I write because writing helps me focus, relax, breathe more deeply (if only in the metaphorical sense) and move through my life with more awareness, knowledge and ease; writing is both the means by which I learn to and the reason I have to focus, relax, breathe and move. My goals for writing are very similar to my goals for running, in the end, which for me is an encouraging thought. And as Dreyer points out, once you master the particular techniques (the vocabulary) and you learn to incorporate them all together during a run (the syntax), then you can begin the wonderful work of the art of running-- the poetry of it, as he calls it.
But first, there's learning the basics. And I have a feeling that, just like I filled my middle school notebooks with a lot of painfully amateur verse, I'm going to be running a lot of bad poetry over the next few months!