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The Tai Chi of Shoveling

Practice restraint, relaxation, and save your back during this record winter
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I practice tai chi. When I tell people that, they usually imagine that I must always be soft and gentle. I do aspire to always be so, but tai chi assists in dealing with gravity, it does not eliminate gravity, and as we all know, Sierra cement requires patience, not necessarily softness and gentleness.

Tai chi is known as a secular meditation — which is even applicable to shoveling. When I tell people I practice tai chi, they generally think it must be nice, but it’s not for them. Shoveling Sierra cement, for example, takes exertion they tell me. This is exactly why you need tai chi — to balance that exertion and eliminate the potential tension from the very yang activity of moving snow. When I am shoveling, I always look forward to the balance of tai chi to heal. Use these tai chi principles to shovel more effectively:

• Tai chi is focused on pushing and pulling. Use this modality when tossing snow and carrying it from one place to another. One arm is pushing, the other is countering the pressure in order to increase the force with minimal tension.

• Our arms are too smart for our own good. Utilize your back and core with proper structure as much as possible. If 10-foot berms do not prevent you from doing so, toss the snow over your shoulder.

• Utilize the 70 percent rule. Practice relaxing after about 70 percent of the time it takes to be tired, by shoveling loads of about 70 percent of your maximum shovel load, and using about 70 percent of the force it takes to reach tension.

• Again, relax. Utilize structure over strength. Use your big muscles without unneeded tension.

• Be rooted and activate your legs. One of the most crucial lessons in tai chi — and hucking Sierra cement — is expressed in the tai chi saying, “The movement is rooted in the feet, powered with your legs, controlled with your waist, and merely expressed with your hands — or shovel.”

• Finally, breathe and meditate. Take time to breathe. Focus on your mantra, whatever it may be. This time of year, instead of “Om Mani Padme Hum,” I sometimes chant, “Oh, melt around my home.” Breathe and remember it’s going to melt anyway, and before that, it’s likely going to snow more so, as much as possible, let it go.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, (and shovel). After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, (and shovel).” ~ Zen Koan

~ Ethan Indigo Smith shovels, writes books, and teaches tai chi at For Goodness Sake.

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March 14, 2019