Saturday, July 7, 2012

Applied Taiji: Hiking in Moab

I recently spent 4 days in Moab, Utah at an offsite for work. It was pretty fantastic - 13 of us went and we went on 3 hikes, each getting longer and harder. Only four of us finished the final hike. it went from 8am to 6pm over 15 miles of up/down in 100+ degree weather - I drank 5.5 liters of water that day and was happy and exhausted at the end of it. Afterwards, a friend of mine asked if I thought that my Taiji training helped with hiking and, after some thought, I realized it had helped in a variety of ways:
  • The obvious direct benefit of Taiji is that doing the form every day has improved my muscle strength and endurance - spending 30+ minutes every day in a crouched position has that effect (not to mention the training effect from going to class).
  • A less obvious benefit is that, while training the form, I work on relaxing muscles that aren't being used (and only using as much strength as necessary from the ones that are) - we refer to this as 'loosening'. For long hikes where you have to carry a lot in your pack (e.g. 6 liters of water weighs about 14lbs on its own) its easy to burn energy unnecessarily and being mindful of this makes a big difference as the hike wears on.
  • Related to the previous point, as I train the form, I practice keeping my center of balance as I transition from one posture to the next. This is an important this skill in hiking particularly as you traverse uphill/downhill terrain - being aware of your balance and knowing how to shift your weight efficiently makes the hiking easier and that pays off as time goes on.
  • Finally, towards the end of the 3rd hike, about three miles out, I hit the wall - my legs felt like lead and climbing was a challenge. It's easy to get panicked in such a situation but one of the things we learn in two person training is how to relax, particularly when things are getting bad. In this situation, I focused on the basic principles to relax more and expend the least amount of energy necessary to get the job done. And that did the trick, I managed to finish those final three miles without incident.
And, for those of you that are interested, here are some links to pictures from the hikes:

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