Pay attention to how you’re walking. Be like a tree, rooted into the earth with one leg, then lift the other. Practicing this Tai Chi walking can improve balance and help prevent falls.
New Year 2020, day 3
Find a practice to calm your mind and body.
Last month I walked the cobblestone streets and sidewalks of Prague. This charming city contains rich history, beautiful buildings and narrow, winding streets. The artistic streets and sidewalks, with intentional designs, captured my attention. I imagined the individual stones laid one at a time, with care and intention.
Knowing these uneven pathways might be challenging to navigate, I bought supportive walking shoes and a walking stick. I spent over an hour at REI looking at walking sticks, for hiking, climbing, skiing and walking. I bought one stick to use for helping me maintain balance and proper alignment as I walked around the streets of Prague. I practiced on flat sidewalks in Chicago before I left, working to create a steady cadence without having to look down.
As I told my Tai Chi students this week, I paid a lot of attention to walking, the process of shifting weight, picking up one foot and placing it firmly ahead. The experience was similar to our walking practice each week in class, meditative and satisfying. It kept me in the present moment. I stopped and looked down, at the various stone colors, shapes, size. I thought of how many steps have been covered over the centuries on these pavements. The past and present melded together. These streets and sidewalks could tell so many stories.
And they do. On various sidewalks near and in the historic Jewish area, small gold plaques with engraved names honor Jewish individuals whose last known residence was in this very location. Very moving and I took time to read their names and remember.
We learned so much history, including seeds of the Reformation in Prague as we walked for hours on the local sidewalks and streets. These pavements are the foundation for all the events and stories that have happened here. Taking time to literally feel the foundation beneath me. to be stable and grounded in each step helped me envision the past and be in the present.
New beginnings. That’s where we are, early days of a new year. Some new expectations for ourselves.
My word for this year is “rooted” and I already put it to good practical use. It’s been cold here in Chicago, single digit temperatures for many days. Patches of ice don curbs and sidewalks, sometimes visible. Sometimes not. I was stepping up on a curb and yes, I saw the ice, shiny like in an ice rink. As I lifted my foot and then started to step down, I put my toe down first. “No, don’t do that,” the voice inside my head echoed. I quickly picked that foot back up and then set it down, heel first. Heel is more stable. I consciously shifted my weight to that foot and leg, then got up on the curb safely. Heel first, then foot. Shift weight to that foot. How many times I say that as we practice our walking in Tai Chi class. And recently, I told my students that we are in training for winter snow and ice. We are practicing our walking, stepping up on curbs, getting rooted, staying upright.
Committing to a word is causing a mental shift, a shift from an abstract concept to actual reality. Now that I have an actual example for myself, using my word in an actual daily activity, it is even more in my consciousness. I chose one word, so I would, at a minimum remember it, and secondly, one word seems more manageable to live out somehow. I am curious and excited to see how focusing on that word will manifest in my life. I already have my first concrete experience with it and am excited to see what else is up ahead.
As I wrote last blog, “A Word for the New Year” and asked what your word is, I got four responses — watch, consistent, kindness, accepting. Wonderful words to manifest during the year. I will look forward to hearing how these words manifest themselves in daily activities. I have received many comments in person about how helpful this exercise and individual sharing is. So, I want to keep this going this week and I hope you will take a few minutes to respond.
What is your word that you want to be mindful of and manifest this year?
This week I was writing the chapter in my book about my very first Tai Chi class. Spring of 1996. I so easily can go back to that time, that day when I walked slowly, gingerly, cane in hand, into a totally foreign situation — a room full of seniors who had been together in class for many months.
I quickly scan and size up the group — short, tall, limber, stiff. There are 15 women and one man, moving to stand in the center of the room. All are older than I am, some at least 40 years older. Class is about to start. The teacher walks into the room, comes towards me and welcomes me with a smile. I ask if I can sit in one of the gray, metal folding chairs. Without hesitation, the teacher says “yes”. So, I sit in the right back corner of the room, telling myself to stay open and try to follow what I can.
We start to breathe, following the inhale/exhale instruction from the teacher. “Now inhale while raising your arms straight out in, up to chest level, bringing your forearms toward you, palms of facing each other, fingers pointing upward. Like you are holding a ball, a ball that is lightweight and filled with molecules constantly in motion,” the teacher explains. I scoot myself to the front edge of the chair, not sure where to look. I decide to focus on the empty space between my hands.
In and out with my breath and with my hands, barely moving. Time disappears. I am concentrating only on the ball. I like this energy ball that the teacher says can help improve balance. I certainly need that.
As class continues, students practice walking, slowly and methodically, paying attention to each little weight shift. I have to use the wall as a prop. It doesn’t take me long to realize that my balance is the worst in the room.
Class ends and I am waiting for the bus to go home, I reflect on the experience. Everyone was friendly and kind. Nothing was familiar. I felt a little down because I couldn’t do much.
By the time I get home my attitude reverses. Rather than dwelling on what I can’t do, I decide that I want to be like those seniors when I am their age — vibrant and full of energy. That’s something to work for now and for my future.
Reflecting on this right now, twenty years later, I am so grateful that I took a risk and continued, that I decided to forge ahead with Tai Chi when I didn’t understand what it was, nor what it might do. That first class was very uncomfortable for me. Despite that, I returned.
I learned that there are times to jump in and try, even with out having sufficient information, even when it feels uncomfortable. That was one of those times and it ended up changing my life.