Walking Yourself Young


I was horseback riding one day when the horse came to an abrupt stop, and I was catapulted off, sustaining serious injuries for which doctors prescribed a full month of bed rest. Having always been extraordinarily active and healthy, as well as having helped people heal their bodies for nearly 30 years, I was determined to get started healing my own.

While I respected the doctor’s opinion and recommendation of bed rest, I began hatching a plan to get my body moving again the moment the doctor left the room. Though any movement was excruciatingly painful, I began by simply breathing deeply and making small movements. Within one day of the accident, I was able to take a few standing steps.

Forced to slow down because of my injury, I was able to observe my body in different ways than I had before. As I walked, I noticed that my posture and body angles had changed over the years, from that of a confident, young man, walking upright, to that of an “old man,” upper body leaning backwards, head back, and body weight on my heels.

When I complained of these changes in my body to others, they simply replied, “Of course. You’re getting old.” But this sort of defeatist attitude did not settle well with me. After all, it is in complete contradiction to everything I have taught my students over the past 26 years. “My body is not me, but mine,” I tell them to tell themselves. Somehow, though, I had let my body start to call the shots. I had never told my body, “Okay, you are old now. It’s time to start walking like an old man.” Yet, somehow it happened anyway. Basically, it happened because I let it happen. It was time to put myself in the driver’s seat once again.

With this realization, I resolved not only to heal my body from the accident, but to reform the habits I had developed. I began paying close attention to the angles and posture of my body as I walked. I decided that I was one to decide how and when to grow old, and it didn’t have to happen in the ways people normally assume.

I closely observed how my body felt in different positions as I carefully made one step at a time. I was like a baby learning to walk. I also observed how people around me walked. I noticed that the young and the old usually have distinct ways of walking. When I asked students to make slight changes in the way they walked, their bodies’ alignment improved dramatically. By tilting forward slightly and pressing on the ball of the foot, practitioners were able to correct problems in the knee, hip joint, and pelvis.

So, I decided the best way to start feeling young again was to start walking youthfully. I was forced to resume a full lecture tour schedule shortly after the accident. The pain in my spine was still quite intense, but I made a concerted effort to apply the walking and posture principles I had developed. Applying what I had learned through the years, I deliberately shifted my posture to accommodate better energy flow. After about five months, this way of walking became a habit in my life.

Eventually, I started feeling like my body was full of vibrant energy, as if I were young again. My body felt unbelievably light, my movement became quick, and I became nearly unaware of my injured back. I discovered the joy of walking and looked for chances to take increasingly long and more frequent walks. This way of walking not only helped me return to my previous level of health, but I now feel 10 years younger than I did at the time of my accident. I named the walking style “jangsaeng walking,” which roughly translates to longevity walking, because I feel it has restored youth and vitality to my body.

Walk Your Way To Wellness

Walking is a perfect path to wellness. Basically, it can be done anywhere at any time and, more importantly, it works. numerous studies have confirmed that walking — any kind of walking — is tremendously good for the body.

Walking is a whole body exercise that uses more than six hundred muscles and two hundred bones that move along with those muscles. Walking stimulates countless nerves that are spread throughout the body through the soles. It strengthens the lower body muscles by vigorously promoting blood circulation in the legs and intestines.

First of all, please accept that walking is real exercise. One unfortunate misconception is that exercise needs to be extremely intense to work at all. people commonly think they are not really working out unless they are sweating profusely and every muscle of their body is aching. This is simply not the case and, in fact, bursts of intense exercise may actually be detrimental for all but the most highly trained athletes.

Most health experts agree that people should work out at about 65 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate. This seems to be the training zone in which individuals experience the greatest health benefits, in particular increasing cardiovascular fitness and body fat reduction. If you interrupt your sedentary lifestyle with sudden bouts of high-impact aerobics or sprinting, you might not be helping yourself, and you may be doing more harm than good. Walking at a steady, moderate pace will help you achieve and maintain the ideal heart rate quickly and easily.

A Practical Solution

And the greatest aspect of walking is its practicality. Walking requires no special equipment or clothing, and it can be done at just about any place and any time. Even the busiest person can find time to work it into a schedule. Just start by finding creative ways to add more steps to your day, and soon you will find that you have doubled your level of physical activity without ever paying a single gym membership or buying any sort of fitness gadget.

If you are used to thinking that your exercise routine must happen in long, sustained bouts several times a week, think again. A recent study suggests that short “exercise snacks” are a way to boost your cardiovascular fitness and to keep excess fat off your body. In other words, the 30 to 60 minutes of exercise you need do not have to happen all at once; they can happen in short 10- to 15-minute increments throughout the day.

You can easily apply this concept to walking since it is something you already do every day anyway. Simply find ways to add steps to your day, to create “walking snacks” throughout your day. For example, instead of circling around the parking lot looking for the closest parking space, park at the outer edge of the lot, and apply jangsaeng walking as you walk toward the building. Or get in the habit of standing up and walking around in proper posture whenever you receive a cell phone call.

This article is excerpted from Ilchi Lee and Jessie Jones’ book “In Full Bloom: A Brain Education Guide for Successful Aging.”

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