Sunday, November 8, 2009

Yogic Running

I wanted to share a simple practice that is conducive to physical immortality, health, and inner peace which I am calling "yogic running". I would like to share from the beginning that the practice is easier to do than to describe in words. There is actually more that I am going to mention to "unlearn" rather than to learn. American culture is still very achievement oriented and it shows up in how running itself is approached. There is an effort to try to push the envelope, to run faster, and to run further. But yogic running is about the avoiding the extremes (complete laziness and overdoing it) and finding the "middle way" that the Buddha thought was the secret of healthy living. There are a few observations about the running that are worth mentioning:

(1) Get some good running sneakers (preferably without leather or too much leather for the sake of the animals). They do make a difference. The cushioning on good running sneakers helps the knees feel better.

(2) Do "cycling". This is also known as "wolf running". You run moderately fast until you get naturally tired, then you walk briskly to relax. When you have calmed down and recharged, then you run moderately fast again. This means you do bursts of running for about 5 to 10 minutes at a time. The key is to not feel like you are ever pushing yourself or straining to go on. When you are doing moderate speed running, your breath is similar to kundalini breath of fire in vigorousness. When you are doing quiet full lung breathing when you are walking briskly, your breath is similar to "breath of water" (rebirthing breathing). This alternation of breathing processes will pump fresh prana into your energy body. You might be able to actually do the breath of fire and breath of water and make the running even more powerful. But if you try to shift your breathing to fit this, do not strain too much. You want to keep the breathing and the running feeling "loose and natural".

(3) Imagine an energy pulling your head upwards in a way that keeps your spine straight and tilted slightly forward (leaning in the direction you are running). Check in to how your neck is doing and feel it also elongate upwards. Expand your chest on your inhale and feel your lower back relax open. You do not have to obsessively check your posture every moment, but just periodically check in and make some gentle corrections. A little bit goes a long way. Gradually your body will get it and will actually like the improved posture.

(4) Notice how your foot lands on the ground and uses the ground to push across the surface. Feel like the Earth is supporting you in your running. Feel you like you do not have to strain like an isolated being who is alone in the world, but rather that you are one with a living world that notices you and cares for you. If this feeling is invoked, you might feel a magnetic quality between you and the ground. This means that energy is flowing from the Earth upwards through your legs and that energy is flowing downwards through your legs. You may wish to pause every now and then and just visualize this, inhaling when you draw energy up and exhaling when you are sending energy down. When you are doing this, make sure that your knees are relaxed and slightly bent, rather than locked and tense. When we lock our knees, stressful energy conducts to our lower back and this makes it harder for our posture to be "erect and relaxed" which is our ideal.

(5) There are some physicians who do not recommend running, because of the stress on the knees and other parts of the body, but instead recommend "power walking". If you follow some of the postural advice mentioned above, the running will be more like power walking and will feel both natural and sustainable. When I observe people running, there is often a look of strain on their faces or a look as if they are doing some kind of penance for overeating. Try to see if you can enjoy the natural feeling of simply running and let go of any focus on achieving any specific results. You will get your heart pumping, increase your thermogenesis, flush out toxins, get fresh prana, and normalize your metabolism, but just focus on enjoying something ancient, cellular, and natural.

(6) You will find that your cycling will change as your body adapts. It will be able to run longer and faster without strain. The cycling is therefore not a rigid pattern, but a matter of staying sensitive to when you need to take a short rest and when you are straining. This sensitivity is key to the middle way. The Buddha likened this sensitivity to tuning a stringed instrument. Too tight or too loose, the instrument does not sound right and cannot make music. When it is just the right tightness, then the instrument sounds sweet and really sings. Occasionally the instrument will go out of tune again and will need retuning. The strings, too, will slowly stretch and the tuning point will change. Even heat and cold will change this tuning point. When we are sick sometimes, the body will seem fussy and tuning will be a challenge. This is probably a time to just do some power walking instead or to just be patient with the tuning process and trust that it will eventually happen. When you are tuned, running will feel simple, healthy, and fun.

(7) The idea behind yogic running is to do something good and enjoyable for the body each day that is simple and easy. If you add Kundalini Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and/or Chi Kung, see if you can maintain this stress free feeling in your practice.

(8) Build your running around your breathing. This principle is also true even in Hatha Yoga. It is a temptation to try to push into some external ideal and have the breathing suffer as a result. You do not want to go beyond your breath. See if you can keep the breath loose, full, and natural without straining. If you are straining, it will show up in the breathing first. If you consider your running as a support for a breathing method, you will not go wrong.

(9) There should be no need to warm up with this kind of running. With this kind of running, you are warming up for your day and for any other health practice you are intending to do. If you feel a need to warm up, it could be that your practice is getting achievement oriented and you are tempted to overstrain. Just notice this and make a commitment to keep the running easy and enjoyable.

(10) Notice your shoulders and what you are doing with your arms. See if you can find a relaxed swinging motion that opens them up. Our shoulders usually accumulate a lot of tension. Imagine during the time of your running that you have no responsibilities. You can always pick them back up when you are done running.

(11) Drink a little fresh water before running, some warm herbal tea, or a few drops of lemon juice and stevia in warm water (during the winter). This will allow the body to do an internal cleanse when it pumps blood through the system. This is especially true of a morning run. Try not to eat before the run.

(12) The ideal practice is only two runs a day for 15 minutes each. It is better to do these two short runs consistently, rather than longer runs inconsistently. This will be enough to support an immortalist health style.

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