The special application to skiing of the principles of good body management
Practical Definition of Chi (Article)
ChiWalking to ChiSkiing
When asked to take “large steps” in the snow
in ski boots, people predictably reach far ahead with the foot and
hip, slamming the heel on the ground.
I normally demonstrate the difference between that and chi-walking – showing with the support of two poles in slow motion how the body
falls forwards with the leg extending behind and the other foot just dangling underneath the body, finally dropping into place without reaching ahead. The leg
stretched behind pulls the hip backwards and twists the spine slightly –
tightening and stretching the abdomen. That leg is then actively recovered by
using the psoas – and other core muscles, while at the same time the glutes are
employed to extend the hip of the support leg and lengthen the stride behind
again. The foot striking the ground below the body should be aimed to contact with a point just in front of the heel (beneath the ankle bone). There is no real point of contact there so it has to be imagined and visualised. When pressure is kept on this part of the foot it is easy to roll the foot from one edge to the other (inside the ski boot) using the subtaler joint.
Forward impulse comes only from gravity and the extending leg just
maintains the height of the centre of mass. Walking this way employs the
powerful core muscles and makes climbing uphill much easier. This also massively
improves posture and protects the lower back and joints at the same time as
mobilising them. It feels like an on-the move internal massage.
There is a slight obstacle to seeing how those principles can
apply to skiing and it’s because the foot is kept in a fixed position and not
permitted to displace behind the body. It’s clear in running or walking that the
support hip must not at any point be dragged ahead of the body. As soon as a
load goes onto the leg (outside of new turn) then the hip has to be actively
pulled back – increasing this during the turn as the load builds up. Unlike most concepts of upper/lower body separation, the separation is not at the hips or even the base of the spine – it is just below the ribs at the T12 Thoracic Vertabra
This has a
similar effect on skis as pushing the foot forwards because of the relative
displacement between the foot and the hip. In fact the turning effect,
especially in pivoting, is more effective than pushing the foot forwards. Sometimes it feels like both the push forward of the foot and pull back of the hip can both happen together.
The same issue is noticed on a bicycle where the leg extension
is done with the foot moving forwards (similar coordination can be applied to walking uphill backwards). Most people allow the hip to follow the foot and while this is
more powerful in the short term it eventually leads to back trouble and less
efficiency – especially in hill climbing. On the bike the hip has to pull back
as the foot goes forwards and then when pulling up on the pedal and retracting
the leg with the hamstrings the hip pulls forwards with the psoas. It feels like
the hip makes a small circle in the opposite direction from the foot. The timing
of this is fine tuned so that the hip actually follows the foot forwards just
towards the end of the extension for power – there is not a total dissociation –
it’s more of a slight overlap or de-synchronization and this probably happens in
skiing and running too. When running I find it an artificial feeling to extend the hip backwards right to the very end of the stride. It seems to start to come forward again slightly just before the end of the stride – adding to the power of the leg. That’s only my own observation.
the benefit of strongly aligning the leg from the hip downwards to support the
loads through the turn. I explained that to achieve good hip angulation the
upper body needs to be tilted forwards on the hip joint and the muscles around
the hip relaxed. The upper body must then be free to rotate around this ball
joint and remain perched on this single hip joint. The angulation comes from
this relative rotation – either the skis coming around or the body rotating over
the leg. Looking along the skis from the tips towards the tail will show if
there is any hip angulation or not – and this is naturally closely related to
“hip rotation”. If the hip comes forwards instead of backwards then it is
impossible to maintain hip angulation and this is normally referred to as “hip
Once the leg is aligned though pulling the hip backwards then there should be a pull inwards with the adductor muscles – right up to the groin. Pulling inwards like this brings the knee slightly inwards but only a small amount – before it hits a limit. If the pressure is kept on the front of the heel then the foot is rolled onto its inside edge with the subtaker joint belox the ankle. This works along with the adductor muscles. The anterior tibialis running up the outside of the shin will contract and the ankle will stiffen and strengthen. The knee will not twist inwards like is does when standing on the front of the foot and with the ankle collapsing. Knee angulation is NOT achieved by forcing the knee inwards – it is a result of a strong ankle with eversion of the foot (rolled onto its inside edge) and tensing of the adductor muscles.
To avoid being too dogmatic it is also important to understand that the opposite also works – the foot being rolled onto its outside edge and the knee being allowed to point outwards – but this sort of coordination is best employed only as an optional movement pattern and not as a default or unconscious one.
The key to good
posture is pelvic tilt – pulling the pelvis up at the front while simultaneously
relaxing the hip joints. This is not easy to do because most people manage to lock up the hip joints when they tilt the pelvis upwards.
Protecting the Spine
Winding up the body into an “anticipated” (facing
downhill) position as is classically taught for short turns – the upper body
being forced to face downhill – the spine will twist at the lumbar area in the same direction the shoulders are turned. This squashes the midsection of the body
and sometimes the ribs can even hit the pelvis. There is no protection for the
With ChiSkiing, pulling the hip backwards MORE that the
shoulders are brought around, then the spine twists slightly in the other
direction, which stretches it and activates the core muscles and lower abdomen
in a reflexive and protective manner. This can be seen in modern slalom with its
“breakaway” poles and the skier clearing the pole with the shins and the outside
arm, instead of twisting away from the pole with the shoulders and clearing with
the inside arm.
(Abstract condensed from ChiRunning, Danny Dreyer)
“Less is More!” – Relaxing muscles, opening tight joints and letting gravity do the work.
Quieten the mind to listen to the body – exploration of your own physical nature and energies powering it.
Represents a way to move your body by using mental focus and relaxation instead of muscle power.
Form – Distance – Speed – in this order. Not working to build distance and speed – working to build presence!
Move from the centre and let the arms and legs follow. Direct movement from the spine – the centreline of the body – not the peripheral. Feel the power of the spine when not met with resistance from the rest of the body.
Children move naturally but not consciously. Adults need to learn how to move consciously through life with that same flow and beauty. It is through our conscious actions that we become masters of our bodies and ourselves.
ChiRunning gives a sense of power and connectedness in your body. It’s not about being an accomplished runner – it’s about what you take away from it – your health and well being. It’s learning to listen to your body and adjust appropriately to improve form and performance. It’s learning to sense your body, your actions and the results of your actions; how to learn from what you do and what you feel. It’s a vehicle to discover yourself on many levels. It’s about having a focused and energetic relationship with your body. It means learning to be your own best friend, teacher and guide, how to be mindful, quiet and energetic all at the same time.
A good runner leaves no footprints. Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
More in sync with the laws of nature – the best support system around!
PEL (Perceived Energy Level)
Explains sensation of lightness when using psoas and lifting the feet. There may be a better use of gravity (Real Effort Level) – but there is also a different distribution of work to larger muscles – giving a reduced PEL.
The “Chi” in ChiRunning
You don’t “do” anything. You get yourself out of the way and allow something else to happen. power of “chi” is stronger than muscle.
The Process is the Goal:
Engaged core muscles
Good breathing technique
– result – More energy
Holistic – which means that each of the components contributes positively to the whole without having to become an expert in all of the components right away. When all of the components are working together, the effect can be nothing short of transformative.
There’s no way to “overdo” any of the above and become injured.
Speed becomes a function of your ability to relax more deeply, not to push harder.
ChiRunning teaches to listen and focus internally rather than on arbitrary, external goals – establishing a clear unbroken link between body and mind – whereby the process becomes the goal.
Your body becomes both teacher and pupil.
Discovery and Unfoldment
Listening to your body – nothing is forced
Based on self-discovery and natural unfoldment of your potential
Opportunity to develop richer relationship with your body and being
Not externally driven but internally motivated
Speed and distance are by-products of efficient form
Cotton and Steel
Balance in Motion (Dyrer’s words – not mine)
Cotton and Steel
Concentrate energy to your centre. You arms and legs become soft as cotton, holding no tension. The rest of the body is moved by the centre – not by the muscles.
(Perhaps this is why we like sliding sports?)
Integrity – Harmony – (When you don’t run from your centre your running is not “organised” – the arms legs and trunk are acting as three separate entities)
Centre line – vertical axis; Head to tail. (exercise: rotate the spine letting shoulders and arms hang limp – feel how the movement comes from the spine.)
Avoid over-training. Don’t ramp up mileage or distance. Signs can be emotional – not wanting to train.
Small supported by the large. Use big muscles for small jobs
Your core muscles work your hips and shoulders
Your hips and shoulders move your arms and legs
Your arms and legs move your wrists and ankles
Your wrists and ankles move your fingers and toes
None of these should be out of order or they will cost you energy.
Balance in Motion
Body moves forward – stride opens to the back.
For me this also means holding inclined posture with the lower abdominals.
Put personal preferences aside – align with natural laws
Relaxing in running descents – not tensing or resisting
Go with the flow – let strides shorten on steeps through relaxing.
Getting yourself and your ego out of the way.
Bad run = Good running lesson.
The Beauty of Learning
Learning is a stretch – can feel uncomfortable physically, mentally and emotionally
Learning is a process of trial and error, of trying and failing, of getting it and just as easily losing it.
If there’s any place in our culture where we need health change in attitude, it’s our relationship with discomfort and pain. Instead of dealing with discomfort by addressing the cause, we are taught to deny its existence by using painkillers or some other course of symptomatic relief
Productive discomfort – progress
non-productive discomfort – injury (unintentional pain here is a warning)
Body scan? – ability to listen – body sensing
Three “Ps” : Practice, Perseverance, Patience
Trying to do well and trying to beat others are two different things. Excellence and victory are conceptually distinct… and experienced differently – Alfie Kohn
Peak Performance: You’re in harmony with what you are supposed to be doing and you’re set up to be the conduit for the flow of chi – intentional – prepared.
I love to race, mostly because it’s the perfect opportunity to practice being present for an extended period of time.
– racing is the perfect opportunity to have a peak performance.
Peak Performance is not about muscle it’s about mind.
Technique – Clear, Training – Plan/Clear, Event – Plan
Taper – shorter not slower – two weeks.
Mindful of diet – stay with your intentions
Stick to plan – gathering centre
Change one thing at a time – accumulative – transformative
Nonidentification – eat what you need not what you want
body sense – how you feel
Live as you Run
…live and appreciate life from the inside out
– too much of our focus is put on considering what goes on externally
– acknowledge our own feelings, then act out of a sense of who we are, really are, not from an idea of what will earn us the most positive or avoid the most negative responses.
– planning, staying relaxed, breathing, working with balance in mind, taking small steps to ensure gradual process, practicing nonidentificiation in the face of challenges and setbacks and building a strong base that is unshakable in its support for your actions.
– if this was a run how would I approach the solution and what adjustment would I make
For me the practice of chirunning helps maintain a clear, strong sense of connection with my body – which translates, in no uncertain terms, to inner freedom. The freedom not to be intimidated by challenges I face. The freedom to follow my intuition instead of second -guessing my choices. The freedom to allow my present condition to guide my future but not rule it.
This sense of freedom is what makes it possible to live life creatively.
Remembering your spine and your breath brings you into the present moment, from which many possibilities of actions can spring forth.
Creative running, or creative living, means developing your skills to the point where you’re not intimidated by anything thrown at you.