Pilates lives in the realm of flow

Flow is a state of being, a feeling of effortless ease that comes from being in complete alignment. When you are in the flow state your energies are completely focused, time seems to stand still and your performance soars. Flow can be experienced in any activity from darts to drawing to dancing. It is most easily seen in top-level athletes and performers. Those who do extraordinary things yet make it look easy. Pilates equips the body for sustained flow in all of our activities by promoting optimal alignment organized around the body’s center of mass in an incredibly dynamic range of movements. The result of this powerful practice is a sense of effortless ease that leads into flow.

The ease of flow is a far cry from the mainstream training mantras of “no pain no gain” and “push harder to go faster”. Whilst these mantras are fading fast, they still have strong influence on the culture of running. So much so that many people accept tight muscles, long recovery times, labored breath, tremendous discomfort and injury as a “normal” part of the running experience. Even worse, many people give up running because they accept the common belief that it is hard on the body and something one stops doing because they are “too old”. Sadly, many people give up running because it becomes too painful or they cannot stop getting injured. I was nearly one of them.

One of my most powerful childhood memories is of running up a mountain at the age of six. Much to my parents horror I had taken off up a steep and dangerous rocky peak. No one could catch me. I was completely immersed in my intention to get to the top well ahead of everyone else. My little legs flew up that mountain with no effort at all. I was completely in flow. As a young adult I continued to enter the flow state through my running. This practice gave me a sense of physical strength, mental calm and emotional peace that carried into my life. Then in my thirties my running started to change. Moving away from the beach, orthotics, treadmills, long hours at a desk during my university studies and ingrained running habits all took their toll on my running body. I entered a cycle of recurring and chronic running injury.

At this stage I was 15 years into my Pilates career. I was well researched in and physically aware of the inherent intelligence of the human body. Through my Pilates practice I had developed refined co-ordination and the ability to maintain form and balance under extraordinary stress. My core was strong, my muscles were flexible and my joints were healthy. I had a clear sense of the effortless ease that comes from moving in alignment. I could take this ease into everything from brushing my teeth to snowboarding a black run in the Canadian Rockies. However, when it came to running I was completely stumped. No matter how hard I tried I could not work out how to take my Pilates flow into my running.

From the running track to the Pilates studio I was operating in two radically different paradigms. My mind could not bear the contradiction. My body was sick of being beaten up and injured. My heart was broken. I still loved running but running no longer seemed to love me back. I decided to stop running until I could find a better way. This took a lot of research, experimentation, many failed attempts, a few more injuries and a whole lot of tenacity. Because of my Pilates education I knew that I had it in me to run with ease and flow. Giving up was not an option. Three years later I came across Chi Running. Based on the Tai Chi principles of alignment, balance and flow, this running technique shifts the work of running to the centre of the body, which protects joints from injury and creates a sense of effortless flow. Not only was Chi Running scientifically proven to (2012 study) significantly reduce impact forces associated with running. The principles were completely aligned with those of the Pilates method. I knew strait away that I had found my solution and just to be sure that I wouldn’t ever again traumatize or corrupt my Pilates body with sub-standard running form – I traveled overseas to qualify as a Chi Running instructor. This wonderful running technique provided me with a framework through which I could drop my Pilates flow strait into my running. I was free at last.

With the right awareness, understanding and expectations around running you too can apply your Pilates skills to run with greater ease and flow. If running doesn’t feel right to you – it probably isn’t. Running should never feel heavy, painful or impactful to your body. Nor should it leave you feeling massively depleted, chronically tight or injured. Running is a natural action that is innate to you. It really is possible to feel as centered and aligned after a run as you do after Pilates.

The first step towards accessing your Pilates flow on the run is to start to believe that running should feel just as amazing to your body as Pilates. The next step is to make your running practice more about how the action feels in your body than any external goal like distance or speed. When I coach runners I consistently find that when they focus entirely on their form (and forget about distance or speed) they actually go further and faster with less effort. I see exactly the same thing when I teach Pilates. The equation put simply is presence = performance.

Here are a few simple things that you can do use the internal focus of Pilates to bring more flow into your running:

Before you head out for your run

– Set an intention to listen to your body and to use your mind as much as your body as you run.
– Take 10 long slow deep breaths and use the exhale to tighten your low abdominals.

To start your run

– Walk for at least 200meters to calm your nervous system and get a sense of how you feel at this moment. Use your warm up walk get present – scan your whole body and notice how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally.
– Then keep walking and see if you can gently draw in your low abdominals as you walk.

– As you smoothly transition from walking to running see if you can maintain your connection to your low abdominal muscles.

During your run

– Do regular body scans to see if you notice tension in any specific areas. If you notice tension see if you can relax those areas.
– Maintain your spinal length by gently reaching the crown of your head to the sky and looking strait ahead with ‘eyes on the horizon’
– Notice your breath. Feel your torso expand and release as your lungs pump the air in and out. Simply being aware of your breath will enhance the quality of it.
– Throughout your run have regular check-ins with your low abdominals to see if you can still feel them or if you need to reconnect. Use your exhale to draw you low abdominal muscles in if you loose the connection.

When you finish your run

– Lye flat on your back for a 1 minute. Do a body scan to notice any tensions and allow your nervous system to calm down. Respect your imperfections and acknowledge anything you learnt on your run.

– Then reward yourself with a good stretch that includes some spinal rolling exercises. If you incorporate Pilates roll downs, roll ups, pelvic curls and some twists into you post run stretch your body will love you for it!

– These are just a few thoughts to get you started. With a little practice it will start to feel natural and instinctive to take your Pilates skills into your running.

The Pilates system has all of the essential ingredients needed to train your brain and your body to move in alignment balance and flow as you run. It is simply a matter of knowing how to make the links.

Have fun and let me know how you go.

– Maggie