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East Meets West continued...

Chi running, which Dreyer teaches to individuals, running clubs, and corporate clients such as NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., combines the inner concentration and smooth flowing movement of tai chi with the power and energy of running. Instead of pushing through pain or muscling your way along, Dreyer emphasizes ease, using as little effort as possible.

"Running form is a big contributor to injuries," says David Hannaford, DPM, a sports-oriented podiatrist in San Rafael and San Francisco, Calif., who sends patients to Dreyer. "But there are ways to smooth things out and avoid injuries if one is taught properly."

At root, Dreyer's teachings come from the animal world. Many of the slow moves in tai chi are based on the movements of the cheetah and the greyhound, two of the fastest animals on earth, but ones that don't rely on large muscles for their speed, says Dreyer. In human terms, that translates into moving in a way that's as relaxed and efficient as possible, avoiding the overuse of muscles.

"It's a way to use running as a relaxation exercise and still get a great workout," says Dreyer, who says his own running has become a form of moving meditation.

Running With Finesse

To help shift to this new style, says Dreyer, imagine a bungee cord hooked to the middle of your chest. Hook the other end to a big tree, say, in the distance, and imagine the cord pulling you forward as you run. Let your feet follow, lightly, in smooth, flowing movements. That keeps you in an optimum posture -- with your center of gravity out in front of your feet -- and it seems to have a psychological effect, too.

"When I think about doing a 30-mile race," Dreyer says, "I realize that all I have to do is lean forward for 30 miles."

Dreyer admits that adding tai chi to running is a hard concept to explain. "It takes a lot of focus and practice," says Dreyer, "but then that's what tai chi is all about -- creating positive changes through focused attention." The rocket scientists he often coaches don't go in for ethereal explanations, though, so he talks about efficiency. "It all checks out in terms of basic physics," says Dreyer.

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