Keith McConnell has been an active walker and runner throughout his life, running his first marathon in 1979. After not doing marathons for over 20 years, he trained in Chi Running and started doing marathons again.
"I first learned about this approach back in 2004," he says. "It spoke to me because it was a mind-body-spirit integrated approach to wellness and fitness for life. It includes a whole range of options: you could do it slowly and in short distances, or you could do it more competitively if you like challenges. I saw that this offered value for me personally, and I realized it is also an approach that would be valuable for a wide variety of people."
Previously, McConnell had used race walking, but he says that it is a relatively harsh approach to walking. "Once I learned about Chi Walking, I realized this is more my cup of tea. I realized I can move at different speeds, slowly or fast, with a sense of balance when I move. I don't mean just the body, but the whole mind-body integration. It is a holistic approach so while your body is moving, you are concurrently checking in emotionally or mentally. For me, that was when I learned that walking is more than just a physical action."
Running and Walking as Mindful Practices
Chi Running and Chi Walking were developed by Danny Dreyer, an enthusiastic runner who also studied tai chi for several years. At that time, many runners trained to develop power and strength. Dreyer's approach considered running and walking as mindful practices, done in the same spirit as tai chi and yoga. He emphasized good posture, loose joints, and engaging core muscles. Self-awareness, focus, and form were more important than speed.
Dreyer's website describes "Five Mindful Steps" used to reinforce the body-mind component of Chi Walking. They are:
1. Get Aligned: physically with your posture, mentally with your intentions
2. Engage Your Core: physically with your lower abdominals, mentally by using your will power
3. Create Balance: physically between your upper and lower body and also between the right side and the left side of your body, mentally by creating a balanced fitness program
4. Make a Choice: physically to walk in a new way, mentally to create health
5. Move Forward: physically with grace and ease, mentally by focusing your mind on the next mindful step
His book Chi Walking: Fitness Walking for Lifelong Health and Energy describes the importance of balanced posture, and offers a series of exercises to develop enhanced awareness of the body's functioning. There's also a section on different kinds of walks: the aerobic walk, the hilly walk, the upper body walk, the grounding walk, the energizing walk, the calming walk. Reading that list is enough to motivate a couch potato to start moving!!
Building Health Through Gradual Activity
When Dreyer began offering classes to train Chi Running/Chi Walking instructors, McConnell took advantage of the opportunity, and trained in one of the first classes. He currently works with runners who're preparing to run a marathon or half-marathon. He's particularly interested in working with people who used to run and have been told that they can no longer run. "We often find that people in that situation, by getting involved in either Chi Walking leading to Chi Running, or in Chi Running on its own, discover that they can indeed continue to run," he says.
This might involve learning different approaches to running. It may mean running at a slower pace. "You start out learning about good posture and how to work with gravity; that doesn't take much effort," McConnell says. "You learn to lean a bit with the body, you take small strides. You may not be going fast, but you are enjoying the running experience again."
What about someone who is facing a serious illness, or a chronic illness? What about someone who sits at a desk all day? What about someone who's had a hip or knee replacement? Can Chi Walking find a place in their lives?
"Whether someone has a particular illness, or whatever their condition is, we find that by introducing this positive approach, it takes you from where you are and makes it possible to go farther," McConnell says. When he works with someone who's had a joint replacement, or experienced a life-threatening illness, he starts with the basic approach of alignment and movement. "Moving in itself offers a positive input to the body-mind; it generates positive energy," he says. "You start grounded in good posture and the energy of the life force. In a sense Chi Walking becomes a metaphor for their life. They have a more positive approach, they develop more confidence."
He notes that Chi Walking is based on developing appropriate form and then gradually adjusting to it. "You have to accept it. You basically say to yourself: this is the new me when I am walking. You practice it. Change is based on gradual progress, it doesn't happen instantly; you have to give it time to sink in."
McConnell also emphasizes the mental aspect of Chi Walking and Chi Running. "We refer to form focus, which means scanning your body and noticing where your tension is, noticing whether you are still maintaining good posture. You have a constant series of focuses that are mental but interact with the physical."
In addition, McConnell has forged cordial working relationships with complementary practitioners in his locality. "Chiropractors, physical therapists, and an acupuncturist refer people to me because they believe that the underlying theories are compatible," he says. "Any of these practitioners more than likely will find the Chi Walking model supports their work. Since they don't generally work with people in active movement, they refer people to me once they've completed treatment, or concurrently. Physical therapists, after they treat someone for a particular injury, will refer them to me, so the person can learn appropriate form and not reinjure themselves."
Gradual progress is a basic, realistic principle, McConnell says. "There is no magic here. You don't just take a two hour Chi Walking course and then all of sudden you're walking a marathon. However, this is a way to build upon what you can do, according to your own goals and aspirations."
Web page: www.drkeithcoach.com
Book: Chi Walking: Fitness Walking for Lifelong Health and Energy, by Danny and Katherine Dreyer
Elaine Zablocki has been a freelance health-care journalist for more than 20 years. She was the editor of Alternative Medicine Business News and CHRF News Files. She writes regularly for many health-care publications.