Running Soft & “The Fitness Secret of the American Indian”

Jul 15, 2014

I was trail running this last week and scared the #@*! out of a hiker.  It was not intentional or an effort to be mean…it was because I do not make enough noise for many people to hear me coming.  The gentleman had no ears covered with MP3 player. He was hiking alone. He did not know I was there until I came into his immediate peripheral vision. A few minutes earlier, I “heard” a runner coming down while I was going up. He was about my age and was running like a Clydesdale horse with a limp…LOUDLY! Ever single step was a loud and inefficient THUD. I felt sorry for his body knowing he was beating it to death…he might have very well been enjoying the run immensely, but physics and biomechanics knows no emotion. His stride was harsh, and there is a price to pay for violent movement.

On running quiet, I often times will intentionally scuff my feet or raise my voice slightly and say, “Behind you” or something to this affect in order to make people hear me, but this day I was really focused on using the restorative and healing arts that I have been learning to focus on my movement quality, breath, the specifics of foot contact and quality gait…and of course…I was reflecting upon my many run teachers, coaches, training partners, and the book above written way back in 1930 entitled, “Growing Straight: The Secret of the American Indian” by Maud Smith Williams. I have had many run teachers in my life…Stan Ingram, Robbie Bray, Tom Tyack, Eddie Lujan, Norm Hoffman, Bob Covey, Charlie Wallace, Steve Mackel plus those so knowledgable about foot fitness like podiatrist Dr. William Rossi, Michael Sandler, and more…but this book really got into my soul as a human being, runner, and a “mover” who puts his body into exercise motion daily 365 days per year some seven years plus without missing a single day.

History. What did they know? Plenty especially when you talk about quality movement. Before the white man infiltrated Native American culture–they were masters of efficient movement and spiritual life. I’m associated with some amazing research folks looking over the history of fitness and movement. This is the only book we know of that teaches about native American “fitness” specifics. While a “fitness book,” don’t be fooled. It is quite heavy on philosophy–not of movement–but philosophy of life itself. The more we understand that “exercise” (movement) should be and has been a spiritual experience of enlightenment for so many of our elders, the better we will become too.

Native American fitness was based on flexibility. Think about the image of a warrior brave–perfect balance of strength to weight, agile, quick, fast, stealth quiet, spiritual endurance, fierce in battle when needed…all built on being flexible and learning to move soft–walk soft, run soft, live soft–until the perfect time and place to be hard for battle.

By putting all the above into my running–I am running softer than ever. While I am not as fast as I was in college XC and track–I am running better, cleaner, softer, and wiser.

"How Indians Run" (Page 60)

“How Indians Run” (Page 60)

So run soft…just try not to scare anyone in the process.

Finding the book? Good luck finding an original 1st edition from 1930, but sometimes you can find one of the paperback reprints from the early 1980s. Try Abe Books as they usually have a few. Good luck hunting.

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