Is walking for the birds? There are so many faster ways to travel and to get your cardio workout!
Well, get this: walking is as good as jogging for reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke! And it’s without the stress of jogging’s impact on your joints (which is three times your body weight). Not only that, walking can help you do the following:
- Manage your cholesterol level.
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Decrease your risk of or manage type 2 diabetes.
- Manage your weight.
- Improve your mood.
- Maintain strength and fitness.
- Reduce stress.
- Help you quit smoking and stay quit.
- Help keep you mentally sharp.
- Increase your energy.
- Increase your sexual desire and satisfaction.
- Reduce fibromyalgia pain.
- Improve your immune system in general.
- Help beat breast cancer.
- Slow mental decline.
- Lower the risk of getting Alzheimer’s.
- Improve sleep and energy levels.
As with any activity, injuries can happen. To avoid these, you’ll want to use the following posture and technique tips:
SPINE: In Tai Chi and yoga, we talk about the very straight spine, like a string pulling from the crown of your head. Or a string of pearls, with your head floating on top, chin parallel to the ground and tailbone gently tucked under. Another way to look at is to have your shoulders over your hips and your hips over your ankles.
EYES: Focus 15 to 20 feet in front of you. When you look at the ground immediately in front of your feet, your center of gravity shifts to a point beyond your toes, putting you off balance and causing you to drag your toes. Both of these can cause you to trip and lose your balance.
SHOULDERS and ARMS: Best posture: rotate your shoulders up, back and then down. Almost as if you are gently holding a tennis ball between your shoulder blades. Work on this over time until it becomes natural and relaxed. In the meantime, while walking, relax your shoulders and arms, letting them hang loosely at your sides. Periodically bring your awareness to the best posture noted above to gently retrain your body. As you walk, your arms should swing back and forth, alternating with your feet. This is the natural motion that helps you to maintain your balance. Even if you’re using a cane, have your other arm empty and relaxed so it can swing freely.
Avoid putting your hands in your pockets as you walk. Putting your hands in your pockets not only impairs the important balancing function of swinging arms, but it makes your elbows stick out. Other walkers might hit them, causing you to lose your balance.
HIPS and KNEES: Keep hips as level and relaxed as possible. Maintain a slight bend to the knees (“soft knees”) — do not lock them. This helps absorb the weight of your body and the impact of each step. Again, if these postures do not come naturally, build up to them slowly, starting with awareness. Be gentle but assertive with yourself/your body.
FEET: Wear comfortable shoes with good arch support, sturdy heels and cushioning. Walk with your feet about shoulder width apart and parallel with each other, toes pointing forward. If your feet don’t naturally move parallel with toes pointing forward, build up to this slowly by periodically bringing your attention to it and correcting it several times every time you go walking. It will take a while to build the muscle memory until it happens naturally, but it is well worth the effort.
Put 80 percent of your weight on the balls of your feet. This is a tai chi and reflexology technique that stimulates the lung meridian, giving you plenty of oxygen for your workout (or your play-in, as some friends of mine prefer to call it). It can also prevent shin splints from fast walking.
APPAREL: Wear loose-fitting layers that allow perspiration to evaporate. Wear bright colors or reflective tape after dark.
NOW YOU’RE READY TO START
Warm up – Walk in place for 5 minutes, until your body and muscles are warm. If you allow your hands to float up to shoulder height and down (both arms up together, then both arms down) as you are doing this, you are doing one of the Tai Chi warm-ups (the tai chi walk) and opening all the energy meridians. Be sure to have 80 percent of your weight on the balls of your feet.
Stretch – Stretch for about 5 minutes. The American Heart Association has a nice pictorial guide of stretches that are good before walking at
Start out slowly, work up gradually. Walk for 5 to 10 minutes, build up slowly to 30 to 60 minutes, five to seven days each week. Or incorporate walking in your mix of activities. You are making changes for life — enjoy it, build it up gradually.
In other words, you could start out with just 5 minutes of tai chi walking-in-place every day. Then add the 5 minutes of stretching, building to 15 minutes when you add 5 minutes of walking to the routine, then 20 minutes when you add the 5 minutes of slower walking for your cool-down. From there, the sky’s the limit!
Cool down after each walk. This will reduce the stress on your heart and muscles. Wrap up by walking slowly for about 5 minutes and doing another round of stretches.
Check the intensity…measure your heart rate. Do the talking test — you want to still be able to talk but not to sing. Measure your heart rate before you start and again at the end of your walk. Write it on a calendar to track your progress. At some point, your heart becomes more efficient and it will take more work to achieve the same heart rate, and your resting heart rate will also drop.…meaning that your heart has become stronger and more efficient…resulting in less work for your heart!
Stick with it
Walking has the highest compliance rate of any exercise, but set realistic goals and track your progress. Make it fun (have a walking buddy, listen to music, watch epic movies or travelogues on the treadmill), mix up your routine to keep it interesting, plan for bad-weather days. And don’t forget to reward yourself for your achievements!
Below are several ways to enhance your walking routine by adding yoga, tai chi or simple meditation to the mix. There is no magic to these techniques — find which one appeals to you, adapt it to your own rhythm.
Perspectives on walking from the energy medical arts
Important note: Nobel Prize winner Otto Warburg was the first to find that cancer cells grow under conditions of oxygen deficiency and die when the body is rich in oxygen. Both yoga and tai chi/qi gong increase the absorption and utilization of oxygen from the blood.
Yoga happens whenever we feel fully present in the here and now. Many yogic disciplines are embracing yoga walking. Yoga means union, so by applying the concept of oneness, yogic breathing and meditation techniques, you can transform your walking practice with every step.
Additional techniques can incorporate simple exercises such as rotating your shoulders, neck, spine; repeating mantras; letting healing color and light be absorbed into your body from the earth and sky as you walk; and visualization.
A. J. Muste said, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” Thich Nhat Hanh writes that, by walking, we generate peace within our body and our consciousness. Mindfulness of breathing can be combined with mindfulness of walking, and we get the nourishment and healing that is available here and now. We embrace and heal the pain, the sorrow, the fear in us.
Peace is the outcome of this practice. So walk in such a way that peace becomes a reality in every cell of your body, in every cell of your consciousness, bringing stability, freedom, healing and transformation. Every step has the power to heal, to transform. Every step becomes a delight.
The Buddha taught that life is available only in the present moment, in the here and the now. And when you come back to the present moment, you have a chance to touch life, to encounter life, to become fully alive and fully present.
The practice of walking meditation:
- Breathe in and take one step.
- Focus all your attention on the sole of your foot.
- Don’t take the next step until you have fully arrived, 100 percent, in the here and now.
- Recognize what you are doing in the present moment and say to yourself: I am alive, I am taking a step.
- Just enjoy walking, with no aim or destination. Enjoy each step. You have already arrived.
Daizong’s magic walking technique
Dai Zong was a Taoist master who lived during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). He was nicknamed the “swift-footed master” and was described as a man who could racewalk about 60 miles in eight hours.
- This style of walking has you looking 35 to 50 feet ahead while listening to your breathing.
- Inhale fast twice over one or two steps, then exhale deeply and slowly over the next three to four steps or even five to six steps.
- Be sure that your mind is in a state of tranquility and your thoughts focused [see yoga walking and walking meditation above for ideas] so as to “enter tranquility.”
- This awareness is an indirect stimulus to the brain — it acts as a shield against outside interference and helps acquire the ability to concentrate the thought and produce vigor the moment the body moves.
Cancer Walking Qiqong
This walking technique was developed by a Chinese woman Guo Lin (1906-1984). In 1964 she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, with a history of uterine and bladder cancers (1949 and 1960, respectively). Determined to fight, she recalled the qigong her grandfather a Taoist priest, had taught to her as a child. She researched and practicing from ancient Qigong texts she created her own practice of qigong walking, 2 hours a day. In 6 months her cancer had subsided. Founding the Cancer Recovery Clubs, she taught and travelled all over China curing hundreds of cancer patients, while easing the pain and prolonging the lives of thousands more.
References & Resources
Drs. Oz and Roizen Speak Out: Top 10 Benefits of Walking, This list will get you moving!, Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD, available at http://www.realage.com/walking/walking-benefits
8 Astonishing Benefits of Walking: Enjoy a better sex life, save money on medication, protect your brain and more—for free, Leah Zerbe, available at http://www.rodale.com/benefits-walking. http://www.rodale.com/benefits-walking
Walking information, available at http://www.walkinginfo.org
Walking vs. Running—What’s Better?, available at http://health.ninemsn.com/whatsgoodforyou/theshow/694482/walking-versus-running-151-whats-better
Mental Benefits of Walking, available at http://www.arthritistoday.org/fitness/walking/tips-and-strategies/mental-benefits-of-walking-print.php
Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health, available at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/walking/HQ01612
Walking with Peace and Presence, Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Walk 2002, September 28, 2002, Memphis, Tennessee, available at http://www.explorefaith.org/tnh/tnh_am.html
T’ai Chi Walking, Indexed and Compiled by Michael P. Garofalo, December 12, 2006, available at http://www.egreenway.com/taichichuan/walk.htm
Yoga Walking, Vera Del Vecchio, available at http://www.lexiyoga.com/yoga-walking
Walking Yoga, available at http://www.walkaboutmag.com/8walkingyoga.html
Guo Lin Walking Qi Gong for Cancer and Chronic Disease, available at http://www.orientalhealing.net/qigong/
Cancer Walking Qigong – http://news.thepanaceacommunity.com/2/post/2012/02/anti-cancer-walking-qigong-a-noninvasive-chinese-healing-approach-to-cancer-preventive-health.html
The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh
Preventing Cancer Walking technique: http://www.healthyfoundations.com/guolin/guolin_video.html