Here is a video of Annie showing some stretches to relieve lower back tension.
“Annie I use these stretches almost everyday, and thank you for them!”– Sian Mitchell
Here is a meditation for a running workout that Christian developed.
Running Style Meditation Workout
The purpose of this workout is to diagnose and solve problems in one’s running style. As the problems get solved, the possibility of injury decreases and performance increases. This workout can also be useful as a meditation practice.
I will explain this technique using the example of a six mile run. It can be applied to runs of any distance.
Mile 1: Diagnosis
Run as you normally do. Internally observe your running style. As you run, notice where you feel pain. Notice what feels tight, limited, or asymmetrical in your running stride and in your body. Listen for problems in your stride such as hard or asymmetrical foot-strike. Notice if any areas of your body feel sluggish or lack energy.
Here are some possibilities to consider as examples:
- Your lower back hurts when you run and you notice that you run with a sway back compressing your vertebrae.
- Your foot-strike is flat or you land on your heels. Heel landing does not utilise the structure of the foot correctly and is therefore an incorrect way to run. You should land on the balls of your feet.
- Your stride is short.
- Your arms do not move much as you run, or they hang loosely and disconnected from your stride, or you are holding something. You should never hold anything when you run – bottles, leashes, music player – it throws you off balance and keeps your arms from participating adequately in the running stride.
- You compress your neck or tighten your head, face, or eyes as you run.
- Your breathing is restricted by your ribcage.
There are many more running style issues that you might find as you scan your body during the first mile of this workout.
Mile 2: First Meditation
Choose one of the problems that you diagnosed in your style during the first mile. Decide how to correct it. Examples:
- If you compress your lower back when you run, elongate it. Decompress it. Do whatever move it takes to make your lower back longer: this could be to let go of your back and psoas muscles, to lift from the ribcage or to push your abdomen posteriorly towards your lower back.
- If your foot-strike is flat, work on springing off your foot after the strike. Obviously, the only way to use the spring mechanism of the ligaments and muscles in your feet is to land on the balls of your feet.
- If your stride is short, lengthen it.
- If your arms do not move well, move them along the arc that is made by your elbow held at a ninety degree angle. Your arms should move at your shoulders and your elbows should describe an arc down and forward. Make sure that your cross-crawl is aligned with your leg stride (opposite leg to opposite arm).
- If you compress your neck, head or eyes, let them relax.
- If your breathing is restricted by your ribcage, breathe deeply into that place in your ribcage where you feel the restriction.
Let’s say that you decide to work on elongating your lower back during this mile. As soon as you enter into the second mile, elongate your back. Stay focused on this task for the entire mile.
Here is the focused meditation: Anytime that you notice that you are not focusing on elongating your lower back, gently bring your mind back to this focus. Of course, your attention will waver, but your meditative task is to keep bringing it back to the task of elongating your lower back.
A number of situations will make this meditation difficult. First, you may need to pay some attention to your environment if you are running on the roads. Obviously, you must keep part of your attention engaged with keeping safe and not getting run over by a car! However, if you find that your attention has stayed on the cars, or on anything other than the task of elongating your lower back, then you have become distracted. Gently bring your attention back to your lower back. You might be distracted from your meditation by other thoughts in your mind. If you find yourself thinking about anything other than elongating your lower back, refocus on your back. Over time, and as you achieve mastery of the focused meditation technique, you will be able to clear your mind and relax. Relaxing will help you to elongate your lower back. Continue the focused meditation for all of the second mile.
Mile 3: Second Meditation
Now do exactly the same process with another problem that you want to work on. For example, let’s say that you want to bring more spring to your step. Focus on your foot-strike and the rebounding spring. It consists of 6 phases: 1. Contact with the ground, 2. Compression of the structures of your feet, 3. Turning the compression around into the springing phase, 4. Decompressing your feet off the ground, 5. Springing from the ground towards lift-off and 6. Lift-off.
Notice how your feet perform in each of the phases. Notice where you inhibit spring. Then focus on de-inhibiting that spring. For example, if you find that you hold your feet tight as you strike, you might focus on letting your feet spread as they hit the ground so that your elastic ligaments can load and be ready to spring. Or you might work on pushing off with your toes as you leave the ground. Whatever you decide, stay focused on it for the entire mile. Whenever your mind strays from that task, gently bring it back to it.
Mile 4: Third Meditation
Do the same focused meditation on a third running style problem. For example, you might work on lengthening your stride. Focus on this task for the entire fourth mile.
Mile 5: Combine first and second meditation
Now combine your focus on elongating your lower back with your focus on springing from your feet. Focus on both of these tasks at the same time. If you end up thinking about other things, gently bring your focus back to your lower back and feet – elongate and spring. You will find that the two tasks will become one – an elongating spring. Meditate on this task for the entire fifth mile.
Mile 6: Combine the first, second and third meditations
Now focus on elongating your lower back, springing from the ground with each stride and lengthening each stride. You will find that all three of these actions can be joined up in one single meditation – an elongating, springing long stride. Focus on this for the entire sixth mile.
During your last mile you might begin to think about the fact that your run is almost over and that you are almost home. This too is a distraction. Go back to focusing on that elongating, springy long stride. You might also notice that you are running much faster than you normally do – and you probably are! – but this too is a distraction. Refocus. Your meditation ends when you finish the workout at the sixth mile.
Other possible focus points
I have listed only six examples. There are many more tasks on which you can focus. The opening diagnosis will help you construct your list. If you use that, then every focused workout will be tailoured to your needs. Here are a few other task that I sometime use. Some of these are a bit esoteric. Use what works for you.
- Sky hook: as you run, feel a hook from the sky lifting you up. This is good for people who feel their back being compressed as they run.
- Symmetry: as you run, focus on equalising the movement of your two halves. Make sure that your hands come to the same height at your chest at the front thrust, or your knees lift the same amount, or that your arms and legs drive through with equal thrust.
- Swivel: work on your rotatory motion. Swivel your hips forward with each leg stride. Swivel your entire spine and your arms thrust. You can also focus on swiveling each individual vertebrae.
- Blue line: there is a character in the Carlos Castaneda novels who uses a blue line emanating from just below his navel to jump long distances between rocks as if he were flying. I don’t remember how the story went, and it doesn’t really matter, but I use an image of that blue line to pull me along a run. The line comes out of me from my centre of gravity, four fingers below by navel, and shoots forward. I focus on aligning my body on that line and flowing with it.
- Gyroscopes: In a book about Tai Chi Chuan, it was suggested that the movements of Tai Chi can be thought of as emanating from a gyroscope in certain points in the body. For example, the leg and hip movements emanate from a gyroscope set in the lower abdomen/pelvic area. Of course, the movements are an expression of moving qi, but the gyroscope gives a more material image. It moves freely in all directions. I sometimes focus on an image of a gyroscope in various places in my body as I run. My pelvis, for my leg stride, and between my shoulders, for my arm swing, are two obvious places to place the gyroscopes. I also can focus on gyroscopes in my ankles, knees, between my vertebrae or in my eyes!
- Animals: Imagine that you are a certain animal running. How might a bear, with its big paws strike the ground? How might a deer, with its taut muscles spring about? How might a cheetah, with its lithe and powerful body, sprint across the ground. Focus on one of these images for a mile.
Adjustments and Cautions
- The humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers held that, paradoxically, change will occur when one becomes aware of one’s actual conditions. Simply by focusing on one’s state of being, one can change that state. This focus can be done as a task for one of the miles of this workout. Spend the entire mile simply listening to and being aware of a part of your body or stride where you have diagnosed a problem. Say that you feel a pain in your knee when you run, but you don’t know what to do to solve that problem. Therefore you can’t set a task on which to focus. Instead, make your task the focus of listening to how your knee feels and moves when you run.
- If however, you find while you are running and meditating on one aspect of your stride that another part of your body begins to hurt, cramp or lead towards injury, you may need to stop your meditation on the initial aspect and refocus your meditation on the second aspect that has arisen so as to avoid injury. Then, once that second aspect has settled down, you may resume the meditation on the first aspect. This can sometimes happen due to the fact that parts of the body are linked together and change in one area can cause a reaction in a connected area.
- This running meditation can be so effective in solving stride problems that it could greatly increase your speed. That is certainly a positive outcome, but it could move you closer to your anaerobic threshold and make the workout more challenging to your metabolism. If you notice that, during your workout, your heart begin to beat a lot faster than normal or you begin to have trouble breathing or become exhausted, do not ignore these signals. Do not refocus on your meditation. Instead heed the warnings and either slow down or stop; you’ve worked hard enough for that day.
- This meditation might also lead you to confront psychological issues. If you find that you are having trouble feeling an area of your body or figuring out what is going on in that area, you might be discovering an area in which your awareness is blocked by psychological repression. The problem may be hidden in your unconscious. This meditation is a good way to dip down into the unconscious and bring those hidden problems to light. It will also give you grist for your therapeutic mill.