Not everyone will attain the same level of proficiency in walking. A person who has suffered a stroke may not reach the level of someone who has had a hip replaced or has broken a leg. A person with a debilitating chronic disease may be only able to slow its progress. On the other hand, no one can predict what a strong mind can accomplish with perseverance. The important point to remember is that most people can improve their ability to walk and thereby increase the length and quality of their life. This is true for every one of all ages.
One example of this program’s success is a man of ninety-two who had suffered a severe stroke on the left side of his body. He was somewhat mobile with a walker but tended to spend much of his time sitting in his easy chair and watching television. I worked with him for several months, twice a week for a half hour. It used to take two people to help him walk up stairs. Now he can do it with one person. This permits him to leave the premises of his home more often and to participate in life’s activities outside the home. Equally important, he actually radiates the bloom of health. He feels better and suffers from less pain.
This 35 minute video contains the four exercises that are explained and illustrated in 'The Tai Chi
Falls Prevention Manual.' The video is a spontaneous teaching session with Arieh Lev Breslow and his 93 year old student, Joe Black. It is intended as a supplementary aid to the Manual so you can do the exercises with Arieh. If practiced daily, these restorative exercises can improve balance and strengthen legs.
1. Warm-ups: Developed by Arieh Lev Breslow, these warm-ups will gently
stretch tight muscles, soften taut ligaments and open rusty joints.
2. Leg Strengthening: These exercises will strengthen the leg muscles so that
the legs will provide better support for the body.
3. Tai Chi Walking: Adapted from Tai Chi, these exercises will improve
balance and leg strength by utilizing mind focus and other Tai Chi
4. Self-Massage: This series of massage helps to stimulate the body’s natural
healing energy while soothing painful muscles and joints.
The program outlined in ‘The Tai Chi Walking Manual’ is divided into five steps:
1. Five Flexibility Exercises,
2. Six Leg Strengthening Exercises,
3. Three Tai Chi Walking Exercises,
5. Practical Walking
You should try to do all the exercises at least five to six times a week. The entire program should take you between 30 to 40 minutes. Start slowly and persevere. If you have the video of these exercises, try to maintain my pace or go even slower.
As you follow the directions in this manual, you should observe the four rules of moderation:
- Know yourself. You should pay attention to your capacity to do these exercises by listening to your inner voice.
- Do your best. You should perform these exercises to the best of your ability.
- Don’t overdo. This balances no. 2, ‘do your best,’ so you don’t injure yourself by trying to accomplish too much.
- A little progress each day. Incremental change is the key to better health. Don’t try to set the world on fire in one day and spend the next week in bed. Be consistent!
It is a good idea to write out these rules and put them in a visible place where you can see them as you exercise. They are an excellent guide for living a sensible lifestyle.
Ma Yueh-Liang was a famous Chinese Tai Chi teacher who lived to be ninety-eight years old. A few years before he passed away, one of his students asked how he had maintained such excellent health into his nineties. He said: ‘Never Stop!’ With Ma’s advice in mind, use this manual to ‘never stop’ moving your body.
I believe that your health and quality of life will improve dramatically and will become a wellspring of personal joy while serving as an inspiration to others. I want to wish you a long life full of health and well-being.
The Four Principles of Tai Chi Walking
The Sword Master Who Could
To emphasize the importance of mind focus in Tai Chi Walking, I want to tell you the story of a modern Japanese sword master. In his middle nineties he was still working out, sparring and teaching his art to much younger students. He explained that in his sixties he noticed that his legs were weakening. By his seventies he realized that he had to do something to slow the decline of his muscle strength. He began to pay more attention to his mind as a means to discipline his body. He found that the power of his mind could compensate for the loss of muscle strength. It worked. Even at his advanced age, he moved with incredible grace and power.
You can also employ your mind to improve your balance and your ability to walk. So what do I mean by ‘Mind Focus?’
1. Mind focus
Tai Chi principles using mind focus can help you walk better. For example, the Tai Chi practitioner moves with a concentrated focus on the way his or her body moves, from the shifting of weight to the suspension of the head. This means that Tai Chi is practiced with an ‘internal awareness’ springing from the active participation of the mind’s eye.
Everyone has this internal awareness. When you feel pain, for example, you know exactly where it is located. The conscious mind not only has the ability to focus on certain areas of the body, it can also direct the body in the way it moves. To use mind focus, you must look inside yourself to find the answers that will improve your ability to walk. This is a great challenge but well worth the effort. These exercises will take time and of course practice. However, internal awareness with the mind’s eye is achievable for everyone.
2. Upright Body
As we move in Tai Chi, we try to keep the body upright, meaning vertical between the ceiling and the floor. This is the unique way in which human beings were made. When done correctly, an upright posture permits people to move at peak efficiency. The image often used in Tai Chi is that of a string gently lifting the head and neck toward the sky. In this way the spine eventually finds its natural balance, which has two positive results.
1) When the spine is vertically balanced, it relieves the back muscles from the stress of overworking. This reduces back pain.
2) When the body is properly balanced, it is less likely to topple and crash to the floor. This assumes that the legs are sufficiently strong to support the body and is the reason why you also need to strengthen your legs using the exercises in the previous chapter.
Weight-separation using mind focus is another important principle. This means that the Tai Chi mover is constantly aware of the way in which his weight shifts from one leg to the other. We do this with our mind’s eye. Weight-separation in the following walking exercises strengthens the legs and reinforces the leg strengthening exercises of the previous chapter. It also improves balance by providing you with a solid connection to the floor and teaches you where you have balance problems in shifting your weight from one leg to the other. These dangerous points on the weight-shifting continuum are precisely where you are most likely to fall.
Weight-separation can also point out that one leg is weaker than the other and that the weaker leg then requires more concentrated work. Weight-Separation and the discipline of ‘checking,’ which you will learn in the third exercise, will teach you to lift your feet higher when you walk. This will help to prevent tripping on uneven surfaces. Once you have identified your particular problems, you can begin to overcome them through mind focus and diligent practice.
4. Slow is Best
Tai Chi weight-separation is done very slowly with focused concentration. It should never be hurried. The reason is that weight-separation is a learning technique. As you slowly shift the weight from one leg to the other, you are identifying problems with your walking and working on solutions. It’s not about getting from one point to another but rather each point along the way is equally as important as the beginning or the end of your walk. Slowing down will help you to remain focused on your walking. Going too fast and a lack of concentration are often the causes for serious falls.
9 Practical Walking Principles
1. Wear shoes that fit comfortably and promote balance. Look for shoes that
are stable from side to side and are well-cushioned. They should enable you to
walk smoothly and comfortably and provide you enough room to wiggle your
toes while being snug in the heels.
2. When you step forward, always step with the heel first. Then roll your
weight onto the bottom of your foot. This is the natural way to walk. If you
can’t do this, then you need to ask for a diagnosis from your physician or
physical therapist. If you are stepping with the flat part of the foot or
the ball of the foot first, you will be unbalanced with each step.
3. Allow your weight to sink into your ankles and knees as if they were springs. This will impart a sense of buoyancy to your body as you walk. If your knee and ankle joints are held in a rigid or locked position, your gait will lose its fluidity and thus increase the probability of falling.
4. As you walk, be aware of the shifting of weight - Tai Chi Walking
5. Walk from your belly button. The Chinese call this area, Tan-Tien (pronounced “Dahn T-yen"). It is approximately the center of the body and the storage place of Chi energy. Imagine that you have a belt around your body with a piece of it extended out from your belly button. When you walk, allow yourself to be gently led as if someone was pulling the extended piece of belt. Remember that this is only an image. You should not walk with your belly sticking out. No one from the outside should know that you are using this image.
6. Walk with an Upright Body. The idea of your headtop being lifted toward heaven by a string is an important image in Tai Chi Walking. It works against the tendency to lean. When you lean, you are likely to fall in that direction.
7. Before you change direction, first turn your head and look in the
direction you want to go. Then turn your body in that direction. Many falls
occur when turning too fast.
8. The arms should swing naturally at the sides of the body. This is important because the arms provide balance and momentum. If they are held in the pockets, they cannot be used to prevent or to cushion a fall.
9. Breathe deeply in a natural way to relax the body. A stiff body is like a pole ready to topple over. Breathing deeply will also mitigate the mental fear factor.