Mindfulness. Meditation. Chi Running. Tai Chi. Yoga. How are these different philosophies and activities related? I have practiced Chi Running for nearly 2 years now, and it has allowed me to continue running, uninjured and happy. Knock on wood, I am a believer. I have to admit that although I devoured Danny Dreyer’s book on Chi Running, and reread bits of it regularly, I struggled through the first few chapters that talk about its roots in Tai Chi. This is a vocabulary that is a challenge for those of us who have not been lifelong yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi devotees.
I hadn’t given any thought whatsoever to the connection between mindfulness or meditation and Chi Running until I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend a Mindfulness Workshop at my university last week. I didn’t seek out the workshop because of the possible connection; I didn’t even seek it out because of the topic, although it might have attracted my attention. I attended because it was given by a very special visitor from Bhutan who I have been privileged to know through our partnership in developing a post-secondary computer science program in Bhutan. But I’ll save that extraordinary experience for other posts.
I hadn’t seen Dasho Pema Thinley in 8 years, the last time I was in Bhutan. He is now Vice Chancellor of Bhutan’s relatively new national university, and still the same approachable, kind, gentle, fun-loving and wise man. I attended his workshop along with about 50 other people. He started by explaining that mindfulness practice is being taught to public school teachers and students in Bhutan to use at school as well as in their personal lives. The idea is that when a class is becoming unfocused (perhaps a euphemism for unruly), the teacher can direct the students in spending 5 minutes of mindfulness practice. This has the effect of calming the students, bringing focus and clarity to their minds, and bringing them into the present. The reality is that the young students – and all of us – have so many external stimuli that it is easy to lose focus.
When Pema had finished giving us some background about his own history with mindfulness practice and how this is starting to be used in education in Bhutan, he led the assembled group in giving it a try. He started by having us sit up straight in our chairs, spine straight, shoulders back, chin tilted forward a bit, relaxing all the muscle groups. I sat there doing this and immediately thought, “Hey, wait a minute, this is a sitting-down version of Chi Running.” He had us all make sure our facial muscles were relaxed, our mouths slightly loose, and then encouraged us to concentrate on our breathing. “Whoa,” I thought, “this is definitely Chi Running without the running part.”
And hence, thanks to Pema, I finally had a glimmer of understanding of what the first few chapters of the Chi Running book have been trying to explain. I was pleased to feel that I had been doing things more or less right, but now I am ready to try to understand some of this vocabulary better. I’m afraid that reading about standing a certain way to enhance chi energy flow really didn’t do it for me at the time. But now I’m prepared to think that maybe there really is chi energy and that it’s flowing!
There is no doubt that by practicing the several “focuses” of Chi Running, I have been aware of my breathing, have been “in the moment”, and have been enjoying every minute of it. I have never tried yoga, although I have friends who swear by it for both mental and physical well-being. (If you’re interested in knowing more about yoga, one of my favourite blogs, Running in Mommyland, had a great yoga post recently called Stand Like a Mountain that also reminded me a bit of Chi Running.) I’m going to have to look more carefully at what each of these physical activities with roots in eastern philosophy and spirituality can offer.
I already owed a debt of gratitude to Pema Thinley and many other Bhutanese educators, administrators, and IT professionals I am proud to call friends. Through them and the progress being made in their remarkable country, which I was lucky enough to visit 3 times, I have witnessed the power of positive thinking (and perseverance) in practice many times over. Truly inspirational. Now through a short workshop I have gained understanding of a practice that promotes positive thinking.
The Bhutanese government has promoted the concept of GNH – Gross National Happiness – over GNP, a concept which is starting to gain more traction globally. Mindfulness is one simple but effective way by which to increase an individual’s sense of calm, awareness, and happiness. And Chi Running is a simple but effective way by which to increase an individual’s ability to run with less effort, little injury, and great happiness!