Mindful water walking offers a great opener for your Ai Chi practice. As your body acclimates to the water, walking provides the opportunity to be introspective during movement in the water. Intentionally notice your sensory experience with kindness and curiousity rather than with particular expectations or judgment. Give your attention to how the water feels against your skin, the temperature you feel, the resistance of the water at particular areas of your body, the sensation of the ground beneath your feet, what you sense in different body joints, your breath… Notice the fractal patterns of the water ripples you create as you move. Listen to the sounds you hear with interest. What do you smell? If you feel discomfort while walking, you can choose to acknowledge that feeling and accept it as a part of your experience, or you can change the way you step. There is no right or wrong way of walking~ as with Ai Chi, however it turns out is how it was meant to be.
Mindful walking is an autotelic activity~ something that is done for its own sake rather than to accomplish a particular goal or purpose. Delight and centering comes in the act of fully noticing your personal experience without judgment, in the moment. A no less pleasant experience can occur with finding flow, in which you become mindless as the activity and your sensory experience merge together and you move on autopilot (see my April 25, 2017 post). You may also attempt to walk in a purposeful way to exercise particular muscle groups and improve your overall gait, which requires focus and attention in the moment, but has the intent of achieving a particular outcome. While all of these ways of moving hold their own benefits, they rest in different realms of which we should be aware as we share Ai Chi.
A special thanks to S Nelson for demonstrating water walking in Lake Michigan.
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The sense of sound: Bringing calming sound to your practice and turning focus to it allows another opportunity to promote relaxation. I have enjoyed Ai Chi while listening to a recording of David Whyte reading of his poem “Everything is Waiting for You” with background music by Jeff Rona. I have done Ai Chi to meditations and to a “Breath prayer.” I have focused on the sounds of nature in outdoor settings~ chirping birds, calling gulls, croaking frogs, wind rustling through the trees… And of course, music is a great way to bring calm. There is an app called Relax Melodies that can combine nature sounds, chimes, flutes, meditations and music from your own library together at your fingertips.
Jun Konno gave us some wonderful Ai Chi music, and I used Ai Chi Synchrony exclusively during the first year I did Ai Chi. Then I started exploring the attributes that make music relaxing and I learned about the tendency of the heart rate and brain waves to adjust to match a musical beat~ a process called “entrainment.” Studies show that a music tempo of 60-80 bpm drives a slower heart rate and alpha brainwave frequency (which is associated with being relaxed but alert). A small pitch range, consistent low volume and music you would not tend to sing or hum along with round out the recipe for relaxing music. In fact, Weightless by Marconi Union is a musical work that was manufactured using these standards and is billed as “the most relaxing music in the world.” The wild card however is that to be relaxing, music must be something that you LIKE, which I think goes back to influence from the limbic system and your memories, experiences and emotions.
The sense of smell: Attention to the sense of smell can also enhance your Ai Chi experience and encourage relaxation. Inhaling essential oils activates the hypothalamus, engaging the immune system, affecting blood pressure and stimulating digestion~ that is, calming scents can engage the parasympathetic nervous system, our goal for relaxation. You may be in an environment where these scents are present, or you may be able to add this through an infuser and direct attention to the sense of smell if sensitivity to fragrance is not an issue. Here are some of the more relaxing fragrances:
•Lemon- concentration, calming, clarifying, boosts immune system •Lavender – calming, soothes nervous tension and depression •Jasmine-calms nerves, uplifting •Cinnamon- improves concentration and focus •Bergamot- Soothes digestive system, relieves anxiety, energizes
The sense of sight: Two areas concerned with vision that influence the nervous system are color and visual fluency. Color studies from around the world show that we do not all see colors the same way for a variety of reasons. There is variability in the number of types of cones within the retina. Most people have 3 types of cone cells, while a color-blind person generally has only 2. A few people have been found to have 4 types and can distinguish 99 million more colors than the rest of us. And while different cultures attach unique meaning to different colors, there are certain colors that have universal effects: Red is tied to excitement and activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. Restaurants may choose red décor to stimulate hunger. I wear a red swimsuit for aqua-aerobic classes. Blue and green are linked with calm and relaxation and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. I get my blue swimsuit out to do Ai Chi.
The next area for mindful vision is visual fluency, or the occurrence of fractal patterns. Fractal patterns appear chaotic but are actually repeating patterns of varying sizes. They are found repeatedly in nature at a ratio of 1.3-1.5 large to fine that has a particularly relaxing affect. Today I challenge you to go outside to find them in nature yourself to experience even more mindful relaxation.
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