Daily Steps to Focus, Strengthen and Energize
Earlier generations recognized the amazing effects that walking has on health. G. M. Trevelyan, a noted English historian, wrote in the 1920s: “I have two doctors. My left leg and my right.”
In those days, science had not yet documented how the traditional evening stroll exercises the heart, calms the mind and benefits one’s overall constitution. But today’s research shows that walking may be nothing short of a miracle cure.
A recent study reported in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that adults in their 50s and 60s who consistently walk are about 25 percent less likely to die in the next eight years than their sedentary counterparts. The University of Michigan Medical Center study further notes that, for smokers and others with high blood pressure or diabetes, the risk of death drops 45 percent.
The myriad benefits of walking, as attested in studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of the American Medical Association and others, go beyond increasing bone density and improving mental acuity to lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Walking literally can make the difference between life and death.
In our work with walking instructors and students around the country, we have found that applying some Tai chi principles to walking movements boosts benefits and makes walking a mindful practice. As in Tai chi, Pilates and yoga, ChiWalking teaches you how to use the strong core muscles of your torso to walk, which helps prevent pain and fatigue.
Learning and practicing ChiWalking connects you more deeply with your body as you listen and respond to its needs and rhythms. We call it “body sensing,” a centered awareness that allows you to align mind and body in a way that promotes healthy, effortless, steady and balanced movement. Eckhart Tolle, in A New Earth, writes of such awareness of the inner body as “anchoring you in the present moment.”
Taking it a step further, we teach how projecting your energy forward to a point or object in the distance, with which you maintain a visual connection, leaves little room for distraction. Everything naturally falls into alignment, following the direction of the eyes. In Tai chi, this concentrated focus is called y’chi.
ChiWalking involves five mindful steps
Get aligned. – First, create great posture. Then, walk by keeping the shoulders in front of the hips, leveraging the pull of gravity to assist in forward momentum. This reduces the impact to the lower back and legs. Watch a small child walk, and you will see perfect walking form. Their upper body tilts forward and their legs go out the back.
Engage the body’s core. – Engaging your core muscles connects your torso to your legs and stabilizes the pelvis during movement. It also strengthens these muscles over time. This allows you to walk with your whole body. An unstable pelvis increases vulnerability to a host of ailments, such as lower back pain, hip bursitis and iliotibial band syndrome, which affects thighs and knees.
Create balance. – Most of us thrust our hips forward when we stand or walk. This is what throws the whole body out of alignment and increases impact on the knees and lower back. Leading with the shoulders in ChiWalking relieves pressure on the lower back and allows you to walk with slightly bent, relaxed knees. Practitioners of ChiWalking, as those of Tai chi, learn to create balance from back-to-front, side-to-side and upper body-to-lower body. A state of physical balance supports a state of emotional balance.
Make a choice. – The first three steps help establish a platform for daily making the kinds of positive choices that profoundly affect health and well-being. Walking is a good way to enhance and manage your energy. You can choose to calm yourself if you’re tense, get energized if you are tired or get focused if you are feeling scattered.
Move forward. – The final step asks you to move forward into your life and your walking by being consistent with your practice. It is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, and as important as choosing healthy foods to nourish your body. Because a consistent practice of healthy movement is the key to good health and vibrant energy, it’s among the best preventive medicines in the world.
Katherine and Danny Dreyer are founders of parent company ChiLiving, and co-authors of ChiWalking and ChiRunning, out in a new edition this year. For more information visit and .