It feels like spring in the air. Even though the mornings are still cold, the sun shines brightly during the day and soon there will be blossoms of all kinds everywhere we look (at least here in California). We are beginning to have daylight once again a little earlier in the morning, and a little later in the evening.
I love this time of year. It is a time of movement from one season to the next in the natural world and in the human world. Everything and everyone seems to be going through some sort of transition. Even the quality of sunlight is changing as the days are inching longer.
Transitions are a part of life. They mark the change from one set of circumstances to another. They can be abrupt or smooth and can come and go without our noticing.
There is one thing that transitions do that I celebrate every day. They take the flatness out of life because, if you pay attention to them, your day becomes a story unfolding in a logical sequence, instead of a hodge-podge of disparate events that go by in a blur.
If I pay attention while going through a transition, I can bring a little bit of my most recent experience into my next activity. This adds a feeling of continuum to my life, and instead of finding myself at the end of my day in a pile of pieces on my living room floor, I can look back on the day and feel some semblance of a whole experience.
Another thing that transitions do is help me to keep you more in the present, which in turn brings more depth into each moment. Without depth, life can feel rather flat and tend to stay that way.
Mornings are a good example. I wake up, and instead of jumping out of bed, I lie there and locate myself. Here I am lying on my back, breathing slowly and taking in the first light of morning. Then the chatter starts: How do I feel? Am I rested? Is there somewhere I need to be this morning? I’m transitioning from the unconscious to the conscious world and it is important to make the change a smooth one. I try to remember to stay in my body and not let the details of my life sweep me off my feet and into my head. So, I do something like T’ai Chi or walking, or sitting quietly in meditation, not something that requires a lot of thinking.
Doing these types of activities helps me to move into my day grounded, centered and feeling myself. If I shoot out of bed and hit the deck running, I inevitably make a mistake or two right off the bat and spend the rest of the day cleaning up my messes. When I start my day with a good beginning, everything goes better. I make better choices, I treat people more nicely (myself included) and when I lay back down to sleep at night I have a nice series of events on which to reflect. I can acknowledge to myself that life is fundamentally good and full of lessons and change and food for the soul.
When I spend my day in a thoughtless rush, I end it feeling lost and hungry and wanting. Not only that, but I wake up the next day in a rush to accomplish more because the previous day felt wasted. Then I am caught in the cycle of a human doing, not a human being.
Walking is a great opportunity to practice transitioning, both into and out of the walk. To transition into a walk, you need to prepare both your mind and your body, and set an intention for that walk. Let’s address your mind first.
To prepare your mind, make an assessment of where you are, mentally and physically, both in the moment and in the larger picture. Here are some steps you can take to achieve this preparation:
- Perform a body scan to assess yourself in the moment. How do you feel? Are you tired or awake, does anything feel uncomfortable, have you been ill, are you suddenly time-challenged, or do you feel energetic because you just completed a big project? If so, spend a few moments considering what adjustments you might make, if any. For example, perhaps you’ll take a shorter walk than you had planned, or perhaps today is the day to tackle that hilly trail your friends have been talking about. Adjust your walk to take into account your current state of mind and body.
- Now look at the big picture. How does this walk fit into your life? Are you swamped at work and may not see the light of day the rest of this week? Do you have an charity walk coming up that you are training for? Think about what you expect from this walk, whether it is to be a loosening or energizing walk, or a cardio training walk. Figure out ways to accommodate your current life state in your walk, and also how to facilitate any changes in your current state that you would like to make.
- Decide what focuses you’d like to explore on this walk. Do your shoulders tend to be tense; do you need to practice leveling your pelvis? Decide which focus or focuses to employ and choose a method for that exploration, such as one-minute-on, one-minute-off.
- Set an intention for this walk to check in on your goals during your walk. Don’t just wait to the end to evaluate; ask yourself from time to time, am I leveling my pelvis, am I using my upper body to complement my legs? Set your countdown watch to 3 minutes and run through your focuses every time the watch beeps.
The better prepared you are physically before going out for your walk, the more likely you will be able to fulfill the intention you set. Here are some tips to help get you physically ready to head out the door.
- Drink water all day long, preferably in little sips constantly throughout the day, and be sure to take some water with you and train yourself to drink while you are walking. There are comfortable water belts available for carrying water bottles so you can leave your hands free and relaxed.
- Right after meals is probably not the time for that vigorous walk, but it is an excellent time for a stroll. And speaking of eating, you probably don’t need to bring food with you unless you are taking a particularly long walk or hike, longer than a couple of hours. Of course, if you are hiking the trails someplace away from your house or car, always carry water and a small snack, just in case you don’t get back exactly when you planned.
- Wear good quality, comfortable shoes meant for walking. Your beat up gardening shoes and the cheap sneaks from the dime store are not supportive enough. Invest in comfortable walking shoes and they will return your investment by taking care of your feet. They should not be stiff or have any uncomfortable spots, there should be room for your toes to wiggle and they should feel like slippers.
- Do your pre-walk body looseners to relax your muscles and get the fluid flowing in your joints. Don’t stretch until after the run; stretching cold muscles is ineffective and can lead to injury. Refer to Chapter 6 of the ChiWalking book for a complete description of the body looseners.
- Start your walk slowly, listening to your body as it warms up and easing into whatever tempo you have planned for that walk.
When you are finished with your walk, you will achieve more of what you intended to if you allow yourself to transition out of the walk just as you went in, reviewing what you have just done and the lessons learned, both physical and mental. By doing this you will not only be more ready for whatever your next activity is, you will also be ahead of the game in setting your intention for your next walk.
- Allow yourself to slow down and cool down the last few minutes of your walk. Don’t just stride back to the car or your front door and on to the next activity. The longer and/or quicker your walk, the more time you need to cool down
- Body scan to see how you are feeling at the moment: do you feel more energetic, more alive? Are you feeling satisfaction at having achieved a goal for today? Do you feel any tightness or discomfort? If so, think about what adjustments in your technique you might make next time to reduce or eliminate that soreness.
- Stretch for a few minutes while your muscles are still warm. This is the time when they are most receptive to being gently elongated and achieving their full flexibility. Stretch each body part gently, never stretch to the point of pain, and hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, which will feel like a long time, breathing deeply as you stretch. Refer to Chapter 6 of the ChiWalking book for a complete description of post walking stretches.
A walk can be nothing more than another hour of keeping your body in shape or it can be a vehicle for learning more about yourself. I prefer to have it both ways. If you can learn how to transition well into and out of your walk, you can then transfer that skill into the rest of your life. You can learn how to transition into and out of your various daily activities like beginning and ending your workday, commuting, eating meals – anything that is an activity can become a conscious activity.