Stillness in Motion

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"The stillness in stillness is not true stillness; only when there is stillness in movement does the universal rhythm manifest" – Taoist Text

"Stillness in Motion" is a way of describing a state of running that includes efficiency, smoothness, and calm, but goes beyond each of those aspects. Stillness in Motion is most common at an easy pace, but it can also occur at extremely high intensities, such as a finishing kick. It is similar to, but different from Flow. There is similarity between Stillness in Motion and the stillness found in prayer and meditation.

1 Characteristics of Stillness in Motion

  • Calm. Stillness in Motion is a calm state, where your mind is clear and quiet. Your 'inner voice' should not be thinking verbalized thoughts, but focused on feeling.
  • Freedom. Stillness in Motion gives a sense of freedom, and a lack of self-consciousness.
  • Internal awareness. Your mind should be aware of your body, focused on how your muscles are working, how your feet are landing, how your arms are moving, etc. Sometimes focus will roam around your body, checking on footstike, then toe off, then arm movement, etc. This is similar to mindfulness.
  • Separation from suffering. While you are fully aware of your body, you are often disassociated with the experience of your body. Therefore, you may be aware of pain, but not experiencing or suffering from that pain. It is like being an observer, watching what is happening to your body, but not experiencing it directly.
  • Timelessness. Your awareness of time tends to disappear or become distorted, and it is possible to run further than you expected. Sometimes this is referred to as being "in the moment".
  • Relaxation. There should be no tensing up or fighting to run. Stillness in Motion is about letting your body run, sometime at very high intensity, rather than pushing your body. There should be no 'gritting of teeth' or 'pumping of arms' to propel yourself forward.
  • Effortless. Even when running at faster paces, there should be a sense of effortlessness and allowing your body to run rather than forcing it.
  • Distraction Immunity. While some awareness of the world is important, many of the actions of running become automatic rather than acting as distractions.
  • Efficiency. Your body may be working hard, but only the essential muscles are active. Non-essential muscles are relaxed, and the working muscles are relaxed when they are not in use. So your calf will be working while your weight is on that foot, but when that foot is airborne, the calf should be relaxed. Sometimes you will have to consciously relax muscles like your neck or arms. Typically, efficiency is improved with Stillness in Motion, with a lowering of your Heart Rate for a given pace. See Running Economy and Running Efficiency Calculator.
  • Negative Emotions. Stillness in Motion precludes any negative emotions such as anger, hate or bitterness. These emotions create tension and the associated thoughts interfere with the inner awareness.
  • The world moving past. Stillness in Motion often includes the illusion that you are stationary and the world is flowing past you, rather than the other way around.
  • Breathing. Your Breathing should not be forced or desperate, even if you are running hard. In a finishing kick or high intensity intervals, your Breathing may be insufficient to meet the oxygen demands of running and you may slip into 'oxygen debt'. In those situations, forcing your Breathing tends to make matters worse as the Breathing muscles start to consume the limited supply of oxygen while the increased Breathing rate does little to improve the oxygen delivery, which is constrained by other things than your lungs. At slower paces, Breathing should be effortless and calm.
  • Riding. Stillness in Motion is somewhat like riding a horse. You are focused on the current moment in time, fully aware of how well you are performing, but at the same time, you are also isolated from the actual feelings.

2 Running Meditation

Stillness in motion is quite different from running meditation. In meditation there is intentional focus, so that your attention is directed to one thing. This is sometimes called "mono-tasking" and is typically effortful unlike the effortless stillness in motion. While different to stillness in motion, running meditation can be extremely valuable. I would suggest focusing on a specific aspect of your running form, such as your foot strike. Aim to focus for 1-2 minutes initially, and be totally focused on how your foot lands, what part of the foot makes contact first, how your foot moves while in contact with the ground, all while ignoring everything else. Your subconscious should be able to keep enough awareness of your environment to prevent you falling down a hole, but don't try this where you need to be aware of people or traffic.

3 Running Flow

The concept of flow, sometimes called "in the zone" is related to both meditation and stillness in motion. Flow is considered to be the confluence of great challenge and great skill, such as downhill trail running. Like meditation, flow is focused on the moment and is "mono-tasking", but while meditation is effortful, flow feels effortless and typically it's spontaneous. Like stillness in motion, flow is effortless, but where stillness-in-motion tends to be relaxed, flow typically involves a challenge. My experiences of running in the flow have all been while running downhill fast on challenging trails. There is a loss of self-awareness and a suspension of conscious thought as you react to the trail at an instinctive level.

Stillness-in-motion Meditation Flow
Effort No Yes No
Challenge No No Yes
In the moment Yes Yes Yes