Justin Whitaker
ChiRunning: A Sitting Meditation

“If you watched me run, you wouldn’t think I was sitting or thinking about sitting.” Justin Whitaker is a writer, a ChiRunner and a Buddhist. For Justin, running is a part of his spiritual practice.

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recently earned a PhD in Buddhist Ethics. He is originally from Montana and has taught in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Montana.

Transcript

JUSTIN WHITAKER: My name’s Justin Whitaker. I’m 35 years old. I’m from Helena, Montana.

Around the age of 15, my sister, who’s a few years older than me, was a cross-country runner. And she started taking me out on longer, kind of country runs, on dirt roads, up and down hills. And I don’t think I’ve ever actually gotten good at running. But I’ve gotten to love and enjoy it — doing it for the fun of it rather than in a competitive sort of way.

One of my big influences was an author named Danny Dreyer, a runner who created ChiRunning, after learning Tai chi exercises. And it’s incredibly similar. It’s a lot about mindfulness of the body and really feeling what’s going on, learning appropriate posture and then relaxing into it. And, of course, I do mindfulness meditation regularly. And it’s really — so many of the things are very similar, the way you set up, the way you kind of put some work into creating the right posture. But then you need to relax and just kind of see what comes up for you.

I think I start pretty much with the principles of ChiRunning. And then I move into what I think of as just sitting. And if you watched me run, you wouldn’t think I was sitting, or thinking about sitting. But you just start very tall, lean forward, and let gravity push you forward and let your feet catch you. You land on the forefoot, so that you kind of have your foot as a bit of a spring, cushions every step. Touching base with your core, making sure your central muscles are loose and relaxed and allowing your legs and shoulders to swing naturally.

And then, I do, I kind of envision myself, kind of the pelvis leveling out, and almost like sitting down, like you’re going to sit down into a chair. You lead with your pelvis, your back straight, really relaxing the core. And I think that’s something I discovered through just many runs, this feeling of leveling out the pelvis, as you do, if you’re doing seated meditation, you want to make sure your pelvis is level so that your spine rises straight.

I was 15 when I started running. And I remember a physical around that time, when the doctor looked at my feet, which are nearly flat-footed. And he said you’ll never run distance, [laughs] because that was the wisdom then, that with low arches or flat feet, you’re just going to get injured if you try to run too far. And I think these days it’s well known that, you know, people with low arches and flat feet can run. But it takes a good deal of effort and working through a certain amount of pain and discomfort. And I think that’s part of life. You can achieve things if you set your mind to it.

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