Regular exercise is good for us. Exercise keeps us healthy, helps us lose weight--it can even help us live longer. Of all the forms of exercise, none?are more popular than walking. And with good reason: stride for stride, fitness experts agree that walking provides the most health and longevity benefits. There are many reasons for this.
Walking is low-impact. If we walk with proper form, we can eventually walk for long periods, which is even better for our metabolism and our cardiovascular system. Walking can be done anywhere, even indoors in a shopping mall or airport. Walking can be a great social activity where friends can get fit together--and it's cost-effective. You don't need a gym membership or fancy equipment, just a good pair of walking shoes. It is with good reason that nearly 80 million Americans consider themselves walkers, and this number is growing each year.
Despite this explosion, there is very little instruction available on how to walk properly.
At one time, we all knew how to walk with excellent form, but before very long we lose that form, and our bodies become misaligned and imbalanced and our joints become stiff. That's why ChiWalking created a?five step process to learn to walk with excellent form that will get you physically fit.
No. One: Get Aligned
Your form is totally dependent upon your posture. The efficiency of your walking form is directly proportional to the quality of your posture. What is good posture?
It's when your body weight is supported by your bones, ligaments and tendons and the imaginary dots at your ankle, hip and shoulder are all connected in a straight line. When those dots are out of alignment even slightly, your muscles need to do the work of holding you upright.
One important principle that comes from T'ai Chi practice is called needle and cotton. The needle represents the thin straight line of strength running vertically up through the body along the spine. You gather your energy to your center while letting go of tension in your extremities--your arms and legs--so they can be can be soft and fluid, like cotton, as you initiate all movement from that center line of strength.
Begin by aligning your posture, making sure your spine is long, tall and straight. If you maintain good posture in all your activities, not just walking, it will give your muscles a break and your brain a breath of fresh air.
No. Two: Engage your Core
The strongest part of your body is also the one that is most involved in walking. Core strengthening is a very big topic in fitness circles. Your core muscles are the ones that are responsible for stabilizing your pelvis in any activity, including sitting down. They hold your spine erect and balanced and help move your legs.
To engage your core from a standing position, first set your feet hip-width apart and parallel, and relax your feet and soften your knees. Then make your spine as spacious and long as you can by simply elongating your spine as though a string were attached to the crown of your head and was being pulled gently up to the sky. To engage your core by leveling your pelvis, place a hand on your belly, with your thumb at your naval and your fingers just above your pubic bone, and gently activate the pelvic muscles under your fingers so that your pelvis tilts. Imagine that your pelvis is a bowl of water; lift enough to keep the water from spilling out either the front or the back. If you are not sure which muscles to use, you'll find them easily if you laugh or cough. $pagebreak$
No. Three: Create Balance
Physical balance is essential for developing healthy, efficient walking form, and finding balance in our lives is an important aspect of healthy living. When you are physically balanced, it takes less work to support your body weight as well as create movement.
When you are out of balance, your muscles have to do more work to compensate, and you become tired more quickly. In ChiWalking, your body weight is always centered over your leading foot, so that movement initiates from your center, and the bulk of the work is done by the core muscles, rather than your feet and legs having to reach out and pull you along. When you are physically balanced, you are not only more efficient in your walking; you are safer too, with much less potential for falling down or getting injured.
No. Four: Make a Choice
Life is full of choices. We make thousands of them every day: what to wear, what to eat, which tasks to tackle first at work, and how we will respond to our co-workers, kids or spouse. Little choices can make a big difference because of their cumulative nature. Take food for example--How we look or whether we carry extra pounds is not determined by one thing we eat, but rather by the accumulation of the dozens of food choices we make each day, compounded by days and weeks and months and years of those choices.
This step falls after we have gotten aligned, engaged our core, and created balance for a good reason. Many of the choices we make each day are so quick and often done unconsciously, that if we are not in an aligned, balanced state, we can end up choosing poorly. In ChiWalking, we choose to move forward in a different way than before, and that means by leading with our upper body, in balance over our stepping foot, rather than leading with our legs. We choose which direction we are going before we start, so that all parts are moving in the same direction.
No. Five: Move Forward
Now that you are aligned, centered in your engaged core, balanced over your feet, and have your destination in mind, you are ready to move forward. This is where the shoe leather meets the road, where you make that commitment to take a walk today and?to lay out a plan for a weekly walking program toward good health and fitness.
Te keep moving forward, keep your posture straight, your core engaged, your upper body balanced over your lower body and your destination in mind. Moving forward sounds simple—because it is. Mindfully complete the first four steps so that your forward movement has balance, purpose and direction.
For beginners and competitors and practiced by thousands of runners and walki, ChiRunning combines modern physics with the ancient wisdom of T'ai Chi to create a running form that is easily learned and makes running more effortless and enjoyable. To learn more, visit www.chiwalking.com.