Chi Running is purely and simply, in my view, a way of moving mindfully - being fully mentally present in the body and using mental focus as one of the primary ways to improve our running. How do we maximise the positive effect of mindfulness to improve not just our well being, but our level of performance in running? 'The Mindful Athlete,' by George Mumford tackles the subject brilliantly and is sure to become a classic. It's an absolute must read for anyone who is an ambitious runner, and is interested in exploring the mental aspects of the sport. I think we all know that so much of our performance in running is 'all in the mind,' but actually unpicking how to hone our mental landscape can be very slippery. In my experience there are several interrelated pathways here. For example many people, including myself, have benefitted greatly by using sports psychology approaches such as Neuro Linguistic Programming, or other techniques from modern positive psychology. Some people seem to just be born with a huge level of grit and determination - a 'race winning' kind of mindset. My personal feeling is that developing mindfulness based habits has the potential to revolutionise a persons athletic potential. It is my preferred method of 'sorting out my head' as a runner in the long term.
Here are some of my thoughts on The Mindful Athlete, along with some key quotes from the book.
Most of us accept that being mentally focussed when we are running is important, what if we could go further? Have you ever had one of those runs where everything just 'flows' and becomes easy? You can't explain why but it all just comes together. I've blogged about an experience high in the Scottish Highlands, and another experience fairly recently where I entered a flow state. Chi Running certainly aims to help the runner put themselves 'in the zone,' but this book acts as a really great how to manual for this process. And being in 'the zone' is where we find higher levels of performance. The book goes in to some depth explains in some detail what people mean by flow state, and gives some great examples of what has been achieved by sports teams and individuals when they have been 'in flow.'
"There's no question that mindfulness helps you pay attention to your thoughts in a no attached manner, which often takes the emotional charge out of them, slows down your experience of time, and reconnects you to the present moment. It's only in the present moment that you can cultivate conscious flow in your life, achieve optimal levels of performance, and experience that exalted place called 'the Zone.'"
I think it's so easy to become detached from our bodies, just like we are generally not mentally focussed in the present moment for much of our lives. So many runners don't really listen to their bodies and will push themselves further than is safe, for example taking on a hilly route, a long run or a high intensity session when we're just not ready for it.
"As athletes, we really need to take more time than we currently do to listen to our bodies... Your body is like a circuit breaker; injury is it's way of protecting you and telling you to change something. Learn to listen and to trust that still, small voice inside, the voice of self knowing."
So I guess one way to develop this that comes across in the book is to be more deliberate in our running practise. Choosing to run slower, maybe, but with more deliberate intention. Repeating movements with our arms and legs, and indeed our whole body, that are optimal for performance as many times as possible is a really important way to 'body sense' your way in to higher levels of performance.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger once said that lifting one weight with total consciousness is equal to ten lifts without being totally conscious."
Imagine if we could be fully, and I mean fully, mentally present without any distraction for, say, a 5k race. Now that would be powerful. This is another place Chi Running complements the Mindful Athlete approach - it helps you know what to focus on specifically in your body.
What I love about this so much is that it maximises the calming, de-stressing element of running. If we can become more relaxed, mentally and physically it will benefit our running performance but also our whole life. Learning to be physically, mentally and emotionally relaxed can spill over from our running practice in to our whole live, and from our whole life into our running.
"When you quiet your mind and give it one thing to focus on, you quiet your body. When you quiet your body, you quiet your mind. When the mind and body are quiet, there is a synergy that feeds pure performance."
Going even further with all this, the Mindful Athlete book talks you through how to become 'stress hardy' - again techniques that are absolutely brilliant for our whole life as well as within the field of running performance.
Mumford puts it this way:
"Self-efficacy, or stress hardiness, is the galvanising force behind what I call the three Cs: Commitment to your growth and development; Control over how you respond to stressors; and viewing every crisis or pressure as a Challenge. These three Cs are mental and emotional pillars of wisdom that help us increase our performance, effectively field whatever fastball might come hurtling our way, and stay in flow."
"When you combine the three Cs with self-efficacy, you not only see crises as opportunities for growth, you also naturally create challenging goals for yourself that support growth. This keeps you in a high state of awareness, which means that you naturally push yourself incrementally out of your comfort zone."
Wouldn't it be great if we could learn how to naturally challenge ourselves in a safe and supportive way that improved performance. I just wish George Mumford was UK based. I'd love to work with him.
The book goes deep as well, and I think it would be good for anyone on this journey to be prepared for some honesty and openness. You might at times need some support, be that professional or from a friend or family member. For example, Mumford talks about 'knowing your emotional blueprint,' which means understanding where you come from emotionally and understanding what aspects of your emotional history are driving and motivating you today.
To conclude, mindfulness has the potential to transform not only our lives, but our performance as athletes. I'd thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who is prepared to be patient and work long term with their mental approach to running. If you're interested in learning how to 'put yourself in the zone,' and develop mental balance - read it! There are some nice exercises at the end of chapters and also an audio companion which is now on my shopping list!
I'm going to finish with one more quote from the book.
"In consciously going with the flow (emphasis on the word "consciously"), the spiritual warrior goes farther with less effort. As Bruce Kee put it: "The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.""