On a rainy August day in Ottawa, I attended a free noon-hour presentation at City Hall, part of a series of monthly walking events programmed by the city. Led by Dr. Barry Bruce, the subject was “chi walking” — a form of walking inspired by the ancient Chinese martial art tai chi. Bruce, whose medical practice is based in the village of Carp, just west of Ottawa (and better known as the home of the Diefenbunker cold war museum, and an amazing fall fair), incorporates physical activity into his approach to health care. And he knows that walking is one of the easiest ways to get people moving.
At City Hall, under an overhang to escape the rain, Bruce told an audience of about 20 people that one of the barriers to exercise is a sense of “perceived difficultly.” Walking, on the other hand, is something almost everybody can do, for a very long time. Chi walking, developed alongside chi running in 1999 by American ultra-marathoner Danny Dreyer, draws on the alignment and relaxation techniques of tai chi to help walkers avoid injury and discomfort. Bruce coached us on how to square our feet, to balance our weight, to lengthen our spines without locking our knees, and then to use the core of our bodies as a “powerhouse,” not the legs, as we leaned, stepped and lifted our feet down the walkway. “I don’t expect you to have it down perfect,” he said. It usually takes about four hours to really get it. “One key is not to be in a rush,” he said. “Tai chi is about gradual progress.”
Next month at City Hall, on Tuesday, September 9, from noon to 1 p.m., I’ll be leading the final instalment in this year’s series of walking presentations, sharing some of the research and stories I have uncovered on connections between walking and the mind. Improved mental health and creative leaps are two of the many benefits of this elemental connection.