Ai Chi performance factors can be varied for different outcomes. When strength or balance is a focus, the base of support set for Ai Chi performance can be wider or narrower, to challenge balance at varying levels and to promote strengthening.
Here’s a personal case study: Almost nine years ago, someone accidentally backed an electric wheelchair over my foot. It was a little sore and swollen, but I ignored it for months before finally seeking help from an orthopedist. X-rays showed that I had a metatarsal fracture, which was declared “healed” following a couple of months of stabilization in a “moon boot.”
While my bone had knitted together, other tissues were affected that caused minor lingering issues. Over the years, my left foot has bothered me off and on with mild swelling, an occasional feeling of “giving out” when going down steps, and intermittent aching and discomfort. I’ve done some self-foot mobilization and had reflexology treatments, both of which were helpful. I found great relief through a friend’s instruction in MELT Method foot mobility exercises and by changing to more comfortable and supportive footwear. I’ve used stability discs for home exercise (see the April 11, 2020 post, Sequestered Ai Chi). The improvements I’ve made for this nagging minor malady have opened the door to a focused awareness of the persisting weakness of my left foot muscles. As I now do Ai Chi, I am mindful of how my feet feel in the “core position” as I go through the first six Ai Chi postures. Moving to Gathering and Freeing, I decrease the width between my foot positions to challenge to the muscles in my feet and ankles. In moving from a semi-tandem (one foot behind and slightly off to the side) to tandem positioning (one foot directly behind the other), my left foot and ankle muscles are getting a good workout. When I move into the one-leg stances of Accepting with Grace, Rounding and Balancing, I can adjust the stance time on the supporting leg to give a good challenge without overdoing it.
Here’s the “plus” I’ve added to my current water exercise for my foot issues: I warm up with several repetitions on both sides of slow heel lifts, holding the raised position for several seconds, then slowly lowering. I progress to doing heel lifts on one side at a time with the opposite knee raised, noticing the difference between my left and right sides. I can increase the challenges while standing on “tip toes” on one foot by moving my raised right leg forward, to the side and backwards, or by holding this position when water turbulence is present. I can also try to rely less on arm movements and more on my ankle muscles to maintain my balance. Finally, I’ve added swimming laps with a kick board and short fins to strengthen my ankles.
Every situation is unique, requiring a customized approach, but you can address particular needs by adjusting components of Ai Chi practice. Watch for more ideas about this in upcoming blogs…