Shoulders to the left, hips overcompensating to the right, knees resisting a pull to the left, toes gripping the ground in front— lately I’ve felt like a disheveled Rubik’s Cube walking the dogs.
Rico suffered a flare-up of spondylosis, making it hard to get out of first gear. Roxy doesn’t have anything lower than fifth. So when we walk, I end up discombobulated trying to give each one as much leeway as possible.
Unfortunately, as my body gets more out of synch, so do Rico and Roxy, who forget their leash manners and jerk me every which way.
Thank goodness something in my head finally clicked. Tai chi offers some useful tips on body alignment.
Tai Chi Walking The Dogs
Ten principles define Yang style tai chi. Four address body alignment.
Even though we rarely think of it as a fighting art, tai chi was created for combat. So these principles should help walking with two strong dogs, right?
First, I had to straighten out my lower body. I’ve written about rooting myself as a way to walk the dogs over slick, winter surfaces. But rooting can be used anytime. This seems like a good one.
Next, the upper body.
Introducing two Yang style principles:
- Hold in the chest and pull up the back
- Sink the shoulders and droop the elbows
Get Your Body Aligned
Try it. Stand with your toes lined up with an open doorway and place one hand on the door jam at shoulder height. Push.
What did you notice? Did you feel your chest muscles stretching? Did your elbow rise at all?
Place your other hand just under your collar bone, with finger tips at the front of the shoulder and heel of your hand at your chest. If you have decent posture, your hand should be relatively flat here.
To sink your chest, think about sucking your sternum in and back. Exhaling helps. Your hand should go from flat to a little u-shaped.
If you slump your shoulders forward, instead of sinking your chest, you’ll feel tension. Sinking your chest, on the other hand, keeps everything relaxed.
I wish I could capture this in a photo, but it’s such a subtle movement, you can’t see it. Tai chi is a subtle art that you can only learn by feeling it.
Now, with your chest sunk, push again.
Feels stronger, doesn’t it? Like more of your body weight supports the push.
Back to Walking The Dogs
The past couple of days, I’ve remembered to sink my chest and keep my shoulders down as we walk. Granted, the exercise above uses pushing, but the shoulder can also be protecting from being pulled out of sorts using this body alignment, too. Pretty sure I heard a rotator cuff whisper thank you.
It’s hard to remember all of this while out there walking. And, I admit, I’ve been slacking off in training lately. Nothing like a walking the dogs to remind me how useful tai chi is to everyday life. Better get back in the dojo.