Tag Archives: traditional Chinese medicine

Chi Running


To the outside world, the running community may look cohesive and monolithic. But this is deceptive. Look a little closer, and there’s a startling number of different schools and types of running. It’s like Christianity with all its sects and sub-sects, which may not be so obvious to many non-Christians.

There’s barefoot runners, there’s trail runners, jogglers, ultra-runners, track-runners, backwards runners, and there are also countless approaches when it comes to marathon training. Different dietary approaches among runners further divide us. Besides this, there are runners who love running in the rain, and runners who hate it.

In spite of all these differences, us runners generally do manage to get along, usually quite well, and we never go to war with each other. We settle our differences by racing.

Just when you thought the running world had more than enough sects, along comes Chi Running. What is Chi Running? It is an approach to running that borrows ideas from T’ai Chi, and is said to help improve running and decrease injury risk. T’ai Chi is a martial art that emphasizes proper posture, balance, breathing technique, and “aligning the body with the mind”. It is a very meditative and gentle kind of martial art, so it can help the mind relax.

Of course, the core concepts of T’ai Chi aren’t all that unique to it since they are used in many other martial arts, it’s just that T’ai Chi isn’t generally used for rigorous self-defense training, it is done for therapeutic purposes. The concept of “chi” is central to T’ai Chi, and roughly translates as “vital life force”. This concept, which is also used in traditional Chinese medicine, and is supposed to be some kind of subtle “energy” that can supposedly can be manipulated to treat disease or improve our athleticism is pseudo-science. The “Force” from Star Wars is roughly similar to “chi”. However, this doesn’t mean T’ai Chi isn’t a good exercise, in my opinion.

Now I think that borrowing ideas from T’ai Chi to help improve running is not necessarily a bad idea(except for the mysticism). However, it’s not like there is anything novel about this. Any good running training program teaches proper breathing, posture, and balance. Chi Running proponents claim their program can help you run more efficiently, as well as focus your mind to improve your running, among other things. This sounds great, but it seems to be a mere repackaging of basic running technique. It’s not like Chi Running experts just “discovered” these things!

At least Chi Running proponents don’t claim you have to learn T’ai Chi to practice Chi Running. You just have to understand the concepts, and incorporate them into running. Since the emphasis on balance and posture isn’t new, the eastern mysticism that underpins much of Chi Running may be what draws many people in. But the thing is, you can improve your posture, balance, and focus without believing in any of the mystical esoterica of Chi Running.

Because it is so new(it got started in 1999, and has become much more popular the past several years), there have been no good scientific studies done on it to see if it is beneficial for runners. Try it out if you want, but unless you need your posture or balance improved, it probably won’t improve your running. Proper posture, balance, foot-strike, and mind focus are all important for running – you don’t need a Chi Runner to tell you this.

Went for a nice run along the water earlier today, no "chi" involved!

Went for a nice run along the water earlier today, no “chi” involved!


There is no magic in joggling


There are so many misconceptions surrounding joggling and the “Wild Juggling” blog, that it would be difficult to cover them all in one post. Now I would love to discuss the misconceptions about what joggling can do for your sex life. However, a more common yet disturbing misconception is how some people peddling quackery see me as some kind of natural ally, and have suggested through email that we guest blog on each other’s blogs. The truth of the matter is that I am no friend of quackery or as it is often called today, “alternative medicine”. There is nothing “alternative” I do that allows me to joggle for many miles every day. What falls under the label of “alternative medicine” is almost always unproven and therefore simply quackery. Sometimes the label “complementary” is used, or the hybridized “integrative”.

These labels are simply marketing terms for therapies based on prescientific ideas that have been justifiably disgarded by modern science. What do I mean exactly? I mean things like homeopathy, reiki, chiropractic, “energy” healing, acupuncture, and most supplements. To make the long story short, for homeopathy to work beyond its placebo effects, it would require overturning most of what we currently know about about physics and chemistry. That’s because one of the central tenets of homeopathy is that the more you dilute a medicine, the more powerful its effects. Another central tenet is “like cures like”, which means a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in a healthy person will cure the same disease in a sick person. And don’t forget that substance has to be diluted many times over until none of the substance is left to increase its potency.

Example: If X causes allergies in healthy people, giving X to a person with severe allergies should cure their allergies. Sounds ridiculous, right? If you don’t believe me, visit the Wikipedia article on homeopathy or read about it on some homeopathy site. Nothing I said about how it is supposed to work is an exaggeration.

Reiki, a form of “energy” healing, is similarly nonsensical. Dr Steven Novella does a good job of exposing Reiki for the quackery that it is:

Reiki is therefore a form of vitalism – the pre-scientific belief that some spiritual energy animates the living, and is what separates living things from non-living things. The notion of vitalism was always an intellectual place-holder, responsible for whatever aspects of biology were not currently understood. But as science progressed, eventually we figured out all of the basic functions of life and there was simply nothing left for the vital force to do. It therefore faded from scientific thinking. We can add to that the fact that no one has been able to provide positive evidence for the existence of a vital force – it remains entirely unknown to science.

Acupuncture, and the theories that underpin Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine are similarly based on discredited prescientific ideas(like vitalism described above), and have virtually no scientific evidence proving their efficacy. This is why mainstream medical doctors generally do not approve of their use, not because of some “big pharma” conspiracy or “closed mindedness”.

Unfortunately, many alternative(quack) practitioners love to muddy the waters, to confuse people about what “alternative” really means, and also engage in bait-and-switch tactics to get people to accept their bizarre, discredited ideas. They often do this by mislabeling practices that are fully endorsed by scientific medicine as “alternative”, like exercise or dietary changes. Funny thing is, just about all doctors recommend exercise to their patients if they are not already doing so due to its numerous proven health benefits. Alternative practitioners did not invent exercise, so this is not an example of alternative medicine getting vindicated. Mainstream doctors also recommend their patients eat more fruits and vegetables, and have been doing so for a very long time, so there is nothing “alternative” about dietary change either, except for diets mostly based on pseudo-science.

Physicians regularly prescribe supplements or nutritional therapies to their patients, so this isn’t necessarily “alternative”. Admittedly, many nutritional therapies/supplements are something of a gray area between scientific and alternative medicine; it is unwise in most cases to ingest megadoses of nutrients on a daily basis, since getting a lot more than what you need isn’t necessarily better. A lot of megadose vitamin therapies are based on pseudo-science, and are potentially dangerous unless prescribed by a doctor.

Herbs, which can be thought of as “natural drugs” are an interesting case in that they also sort of inhabit a grey zone. Some doctors may occasionally prescribe or recommend them for non-serious conditions like coughs, or upset stomachs in the form of teas, but beyond this most are unproven or at best the results from studies are inconsistent. That said, many medical scientists study plants to help them discover new drugs, because of the many powerful pharmacological substances in plants(a fairly high percentage of pharmaceutical drugs are based on plant chemicals).

In pharmaceutical drugs, these chemicals tend to be more powerful and more reliable due to their isolation and the controlled conditions in which they are manufactured; in herbs, they are often a lot less potent due to the presence of other natural chemicals that negate their effects and plants will vary greatly over how much of the active chemical they produce. So many people will swear that an unproven herbal supplement they take works, but this is almost certainly due to the placebo effect. When it comes to alternative medicine in general, the only benefit anyone experiences is the placebo effect.

Some alternative practitioners may point to Yoga as a form of “alternative” medicine that works. The reality is that Yoga, divorced from its spiritual underpinnings is really just a form of exercise, and as already noted exercise has been proven to be an effective health booster. Meditation is a form of relaxation and may help train the mind to focus better, so it is similarly not “alternative”. Chiropractic has as its backbone many pseudo-scientific ideas about the spine, but some of the better chiropracters may mix in some of the latest physical therapy techniques, rendering this form of alternative therapy something of a mixed bag.

So no, there is nothing “alternative” that I am doing that allows me to joggle, though I often experiment with things that are at least scientifically plausible or from the grey area between scientific and alternative medicine. I frequently post about how certain foods, nutrients, or dietary approaches may boost athletic performance, aid recovery, or prevent disease, but this is just nutrition or falls into the category of “home remedy”. Optimal sports nutrition is not “alternative”, and I cite published scientific studies whenever possible to show if something works or not.

I am not in tune with any “supernatural” forces. There is no reiki, energy healing, homeopathy, chakras, traditional Chinese medicine, vitalism, or even caffeine in my approach to joggling and fitness. It is just one of the many glorious end products of eating a healthy plant-based diet, getting enough sleep, and a ton of practice. The mind-set I have is one of scientific skepticism, not of being in tune with some kind of “spirit-force” or whatever they are calling it these days.

I will simply not use or recommend something if there is no evidence to support it and/or if it is scientifically implausible. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be able to joggle at all if I wasted my time doing things that are based on nonsense or pseudo-science. So skepticism prevents me from wasting my time doing useless things, besides things that are potentially harmful. Ultimately, as someone once said, skeptics are the garbagemen of bad ideas, and no where is skepticism needed more than in health and fitness.

For more info on quackery and alternative medicine visit:

Science-Based Medicine