Secret of Youth
When the land is bathed, through the woods, in the first sunshine, hundreds of people do exercises on the lawn. That is the usual scene at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Most of the people performing the exercises are middle-aged or elderly. Many of those people are performing Taijiquan (a traditional form of Chinese shadow boxing), which has become a typical Chinese morning exercise. The participants' graceful movements somewhat resemble the movements — in slow motion — of ballet performers. Taijiquan requires a concentrated effort, but it produces little sweat. In the garden in the south of the park, some people perform a special exercise: They ask and answer questions loudly, and they clap their hands from time to time.
Many foreigners like to watch Chinese people perform their morning exercises, and the foreigners wonder how elderly Chinese, with their slim figures, flexible bodies and smooth skin, manage to look younger with each passing year. In fact, the secret is in the morning exercises they perform to stay fit.
Walking on Cobble Roads
In addition to the above-mentioned activities, some Chinese people perform other morning exercises, such as crawling and doing handstands. Zhao suggests such exercises are a great way to tone the body. During ancient times, monks used such methods to build up their bodies and stay strong and healthy. Now, people realize other benefits of the exercises, such as alleviating stress and promoting blood circulation.
Over the past few years, walking on cobble roads has become a popular exercise in China. As a result, many cobble roads have been built in parks, residential zones and residents' courtyards.
By walking on a cobble road, you can massage the soles of your feet, as the uneven stones stimulate the acupuncture points on your soles, which, in turn, improve your health. The principle is similar to the principles of acupuncture and moxibustion.
To avoid bacterial infection and to achieve the desired effects, you should wear socks, rather than walking barefoot. This may also prevent your feet from being injured. You should also walk slowly.
Zhao stresses, despite the benefits, this exercise is not for everybody. People who have pulled or twisted muscles in their feet, and people who suffer from bone spurs and/or cysts in their feet, should avoid this exercise.
According to the theories of modern sports science, walking backwards is good for your health, as it can help prevent the development of a hunchback. It also helps promote blood circulation and metabolism and helps prevent lumbago. This exercise also increases the bearing capacity of your knees, and strengthens the muscles and ligaments of the joints. As you must balance yourself when you walk backwards, the exercise improves the functions of your cerebellum, which coordinates and balances your bodily movements, as well as the flexibility of your body.
However, you should pay special attention when you walk backwards, to make sure that the road is even; otherwise, you might stumble.
Zhao recommends you do the following when walking backwards:
1. Warm-up exercises: Limber up your ankles and knee joints, and sway your body from side to side;
2. Mark time: Relax your body when you do the exercise, with both arms swaying forward and backward. First, raise your heels a bit, but keep your toes on the ground when you mark time. After doing the exercise for a minute, raise your thighs higher, so that your feet will be off the ground. Keep practicing for another two minutes;
3. After you have adjusted yourself to the movement of marking time, you may start walking backwards. While walking, you should keep your steps steady, and sway your arms forward and backward to balance yourself;
4. If you suffer from lumbago and/or arthritis, you should walk backwards two or three times a day. You may walk 100-400 steps at one go, take a two-minute break, and then resume; and
5. If you want to lose weight, you should do the exercise two times every day—in the morning and in the afternoon. You should walk 1,500-2,000 meters each time, and increase the amount of exercise by speeding up your steps, or jogging backwards.
Back Against a Wall
In some Chinese action movies, monks practice their skills by striking their backs against big trees. The exercise relaxes their muscles, enhances blood circulation and strengthens their waists and backs. You should not do it the same way. It is best that you choose a solid wall.
According to the theories of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), people who suffer from lumbago and/or backaches should regulate their vital energy and promote blood circulation, rather than striking their backs against solid walls. Those who suffer from heart disease and/or high blood pressure are advised not to perform the exercise. Elderly people, whose bones tend to be more fragile, should not strike their backs against hard things.
Zhao suggests clapping hands is a simple and convenient way to improve your health. The principle and function of the exercise are similar to those of some TCM therapies, such as acupuncture, moxibustion and massage. By clapping your hands, you stimulate the acupuncture points and remove obstacles from the main and collateral channels, which form a network of passages — through which vital energy circulates and along which the acupuncture points are distributed — on your palms. This will help you expel, through your fingertips, the cold and toxins in your body. It will also enhance blood circulation. As a result, it will improve your immune system.
When you perform the exercise, first clap your hands lightly, and gradually increase the strength. You may practice clapping your hands any time you wish, whether you are lying in bed, walking or standing. This is a great exercise for people confined to wheelchairs and the elderly who have difficulty getting about.