However it turns out is how it was meant to be

Doing Ai Chi affects each of us in a unique and individual way every time we do it. We come to this practice from different life experiences~ from interactions with others at home or en route to the pool, after hearing a breaking news broadcast or listening to relaxing music. We have different backgrounds, health issues, emotional experiences, support systems, coping mechanisms and internal resources. Some come to Ai Chi with a goal~ to improve balance, mobility, core strength, or breathing, to reduce stress, find pain relief or simply to feel more centered… Ai Chi can bring all of these things. It is a tool for strengthening and healing.

But there can be roadblocks to being in the frame of mind to fully enjoy Ai Chi practice in the moment. Perhaps the water temperature is not quite right or the noise level is high. Perhaps you had a distracting encounter or something is weighing on your mind. What can you do?

The structure of Ai Chi is there to help you. The introductory steps invite grounding, with a stable posture. Turn your attention away from the commotion around you to your breath, to the sensation of the buoyancy and support of the water and to the fractal patterns in the ripples as you move. Acknowledge your concerns, and leave them behind for a little while~ you can get back to them later. Accept the presence of distractions, but let them be. They may persist, but you are involved in something else for the moment. If you find yourself inhaling during an exhalation movement, know that it was because you needed it. Don’t let stress creep in if you omit a step or move left when you normally would have moved right~ the structured patterns of Ai Chi are a framework for you to build your own experience. Jun Kono reminds us through his words and through his own practice adaptations that however it turns out is how it was meant to be.

In the 1930’s, a chef at the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts named Ruth Wakefield wanted to serve her guests a new variation of cookies and ice cream. As she started her baking project, she was tight on time and realized that her supply of easy-melting Baker’s sweet chocolate was depleted. The only chocolate available was a semi-sweet chocolate bar, which she chopped up and put on top of the cookie batter, hoping it would melt to create a chocolate cookie. Instead, the beloved chocolate chip cookie was born~ comfort food that was meant to be.

Ruth Sova recently shared these timely words from Henry Ford: Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.

Sometimes what we perceive as “mistakes” are really how it was meant to be.

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Stretch your limits!

Ai Chi touches many beneficial areas for good health~ decreasing stress, improving balance, core strengthening, enhancing breathing, increasing joint mobility… but don’t limit your exercise to just Ai Chi! The secret to successful aging is staying active, and it is important to make exercise a part of your everyday life. Choose enjoyable activities that improve large muscle strength, heart health and targeted stretching of tight muscles. I like bike riding, walking, horseback riding, water aerobics and kayaking, so those are fun ways for me to meet some of those needs. I ride my bike instead of driving when I can, and I tend to go for a more distant parking place when I drive. It’s fun to track the number of steps with an activity tracker, and you can even inspire friends by sharing your numbers through technology. I also keep a 10-12# weight and water bar bells nearby for daily use.

Exercise theories have changed a lot over the years. It’s not necessary to spend lots of time dedicated to working out~ the secret to results lies in how you spend your time. Studies show only a 2% gain in muscle strength in doing more than 10-12 repetitions of a strengthening exercise, if you are exercising at a somewhat hard to hard exercise level~ so I typically do 12 curls with my hand weight, which is somewhat hard when I start and hard by the final repetition. If the weight is too light or resistance cords are too stretchy, I lose out on the strengthening benefit. If they are too heavy and I am struggling against the resistance, I risk muscle strain and injury.

What if you want to improve endurance? Decrease your weight to fairly light to somewhat hard and do 23-25 repetitions. By adjusting resistance based on your perceived level of exertion you can work to achieve your personal goals in an efficient and effective way. The Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion is a handy visual chart for determining effort.

What about mobility? In the old days Jane Fonda modeled bouncing at the end of joint ranges to get more mobility. Studies now show that a quick stretch to muscles actually causes a reflex contraction of the muscle~ the opposite of what we want to achieve! But if you hold a stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, you achieve a muscle relaxation effect. So if you want to stretch a muscle, gently move to the end of its range where you feel some tension, hold it there to a count of 30 to 60, then gently release it. I often do this with my hamstrings before doing Ai Chi to enhance the mobility benefits during Accepting with Grace, Rounding and Balancing.

Finally, if you have discomfort after any exercise, use your best method of calming things down~ ice, mild heat, anti-inflammatory medications~ and if pain persists more than 2 hours following exercise, you have done too much. The next time you exercise, pace yourself and decrease the resistance, excursion, range of motion or number of repetitions. Don’t give up exercising if you meet some challenges, but mindfully adapt your approach.

 

Accepting

Now we move to accepting. Accepting challenges balance a bit. You’re moving more~ shifting your point of stability. Accepting yourself for where you are, here and now. Feeling the gentle caress of the water around you as you move through it. Sensing the surface beneath your feet as you shift backward and forward. This is mindfulness~ giving direct attention to body and breath, focusing on the moment while calmly accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and sensations.

Accepting: Breathe in as you step back and shift your weight onto your right foot, at the same time reaching both arms behind you with slightly bent elbows. Blow out through pursed lips as you shift your weight to your left foot and bring your hands together in front of you. Complete all of the repetitions before pivoting 180 degrees and repeating to the other side.

Ai Chi founder Jun Konno demonstrates the first 10 steps in this video to the soothing sounds of Ai Chi Synchrony: