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Danny Dreyer: Mindful Exercise, The Importance of Breathing, and Hitting Your Reset Button

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ARE YOU EXERCISING WRONG?

Danny Dreyer has been a huge influence on me as a runner and an athlete, and I am thrilled to have him back on the show. Danny is cofounder of Chi Running—which is a truly transformative program that came out of Danny’s 15 years of Tai Chi and 45 years of running and coaching people in energy balance, injury prevention, and intentional movement.

Danny and his wife co-authored Chi Running and Chi Walking, plus they have some great online programs for marathoners and other athletes. On this podcast, we’re talking about why you might be running wrong, how to choose the best place to live, and one exercise to do right now for instant energy!

BRINGING MINDFULNESS TO RUNNING

Danny’s approach to training athletes does not involve pushing harder and harder until you reach a breaking point. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Through Chi Running, Danny trains athletes to run and move in such a fluid way that you are going to go faster and further without hurting yourself.

Running shouldn’t hurt. If it does, you’re doing it wrong.

When you push yourself just on your legs, and when you force yourself to simply go faster and faster, a lot of times you compromise form—which causes injuries. But once you know the proper form, you are able to utilize propulsion, gravity, and resistance to move yourself in a fluid way that will end up making you faster and able to go further without hurting your body.

Many athletes want to improve their performance—beating their times or winning a competition. But if you break down the word performance, you get a whole new perspective on how to train:

  • Per: means “through”
  • Form: means “a certain mode”
  • Ance: means “the act of”

So, per-form-ance means action through a certain mode. The idea is to stop focusing on best, fastest, strongest and start paying attention to technique. Once you have the technique, you simply have to tweak it and you can go faster, longer.

As athletes, we’re often only taught half of the equation—the physical push. When you walk or run using mindfulness, you can rise above the noise.

HITTING YOUR “RESET BUTTON”

Tai Chi is a martial art form that reconnects your extremities to your brain, and you can use running in that same form. It’s like a recalibration, or like hitting “reset.”

Every morning when Danny wakes up, he asks himself, “What can I do to set myself off right today?”

Do you wake up with aches and pains and simply pop an Advil and ignore your body for the rest of the day? Well, stop! It’s important to think about why your body aches. You must sense your body and work it out—few of us are taught to sense our bodies at all. If we were taught throughout the course of our formal education to listen to and sense our bodies, we’d know when to eat, sleep, exercise, et cetera and we could alleviate many chronic illnesses and athletic injuries.

Most of us focus on simply getting stronger to improve our performance, but the true way to improve is to subtract everything holding you back from moving as fluidly as possible. Then, you don’t need strength training.

ONE EASY WAY TO HIT RESET

Here’s one simple way you can “reset” your body for better posture and more natural, fluid movement: Stop slouching! Try reaching up with the crown of your head and allow your body to hang below it like a puppet on strings. This aligns your posture and allows the energy to move through your body.

It’s that simple.

You can also practice Tai Chi, Chi Gong, or yoga to help align your chakras and allow the energy to flow and your body to move with grace and ease.

THE IMPORTANCE OF STRETCHING

When you think of stretching, do you think of something you do right before you go for a run?

Danny recommends stretching first thing when you wake up—stretching all of your moving parts, holding each stretch for about two seconds. Stretching is the first part of Danny’s own morning routine, followed by a sitting meditation and then a run a bit later.

When you stretch as part of a ritual, you’re always ready to move your body and it makes you conscious of the way you stand, present yourself, and breath.

FOCUS ON BREATH

Breathing is something you do without thinking—but by focusing on your breathing, you can achieve incredible results. By belly breathing as often as possible throughout the day—as part of your ritual, while stretching, while driving and more, you learn to exercise the muscle of your diaphragm.

Try not to mouth breathe and avoid short, shallow breaths.

Patrick McKeown is currently working with high caliber runners on a breath-holding technique that duplicates high altitude training. This works by starving the lungs for oxygen, which signals your body to increase red blood cells, hemoglobin, and capillary beds. McKeown was concerned that this might be illegal doping and disqualify his athletes. But since no drugs are involved—only training the human body—it is perfectly legal and results in amazing performance.

This breath-holding technique yields quick results—in six weeks, it has completely fixed exercised-induced asthma and healed kids with breathing problems. McKeown’s soon-to-be-released book includes 25 pages of scientific studies that prove the method’s efficacy.

BREATH AND FRESH AIR

The issue today is that breathing is often overlooked. We are breathing polluted air, while the quality of the air we breathe is just as important as the quality of the water we drink. While we often drink only filtered or bottled water, we spend little time thinking about the air.

If you live in a place like Ashville, you have the benefit of good, clean air. However, in L.A. you can see the smog settling and feel it in your lungs if you go for a run. One trick is very simple to filtering out as much pollution as possible if you live in a place with poor air quality—breathe through your nose!

When you are choosing where to live, make sure to include air quality as a deciding factor.

If you are travelling to a place with poor air quality, you may want to take a few measure to reduce the amount of toxins you inhale while going for a run: Cut your run shorter, stay off the main roads to avoid inhaling exhaust, do Neti pots to clean out sinuses, increase your vitamin C intake, and eat a clean diet full of greens.

PLUS, breathe through your nose! When you breathe through your nose, you filter toxic particles out of the air—unlike mouth breathing, which actually impairs circulation in addition to skipping the filtration process.

If your immune system is overtaxed, it directly effects your performance. You can keep your immune system running well despite environmental toxins by using these counterbalances:

  • Nose breathing
  • Drinking lots of pure, filtered water (or spring water)
  • Taking saunas (sweat it out)
  • Eating the cleanest food possible

In fact, when Danny is running a trail, he’ll often drink pure spring water spouting from the rocks!

WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

Danny’s giving you one simple exercise you can literally do right now, sitting in your chair, to increase your mindfulness: Just feel your own body weight in your chair. Lift the crown of your head high and feel the tension it creates from the top of your head all the way down into your pelvis. Allow your mind to clear… your circulation will open up and you will properly align your body.

Being mindful brings you back into your body… so, make conscious movement a part of what you do.

In April, Chi Running launches a subscription service that will deliver one lesson a week to your inbox—exercises that you can practice every day to create a new habit that becomes part of your lifestyle.

You can find Danny at www.chirunning.com. There’s tons of stuff on his web site and if you can catch one of his classes, it’s beyond worth it!

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