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The River Steps (a.k.a. Ladder Stepping) provides a method to study the transition of your weight between the insubstantial and substantial legs.
Stand in Wuji Posture. Keep your arms at your sides and bend the knees slightly. Maintain this height throughout the exercise.
Kick your left leg forward and land it on its heel. Unlike the diagonal stepping pattern used in Five Phases Stepping, step forward on a line parallel to the right foot.
Lower the toes of your foot as you let your weight fall onto it. As your weight falls onto the foot, your upper body leans forward slightly, keeping a straight line from the top of your head to the tailbone. The right knee extends straight as the left knee bends and receives the weight of the body. Keep the right heel on the floor.
When your weight is on the left foot, lift the heel of the right foot off the floor by bending the knee of the right leg. Then extend the right foot forward and place the heel on the floor.
Now, begin putting the weight down onto the right leg as the right knee bends and the left knee extends. Pay attention to both the yin to yang (substantial to insubstantial) and yang to yin (insubstantial to substantial) changes. Repeat this stepping pattern forward a number of paces before reversing and performing the River Steps backwards.
To go backwards, (let’s say you have stopped with the right leg forward) move the weight backward onto the left leg by bending the knee of the left leg and lifting the toe of the right foot. The right leg will straighten naturally as you do this.
Lift the right heel off the ground and slide the foot back to land on its toe. Be sure that the foot moves parallel to the left foot. Gradually lower the heel of the right foot as you put your weight back onto the right leg. The right knee will bend, and the left knee will straighten. Continue backwards the same number of steps you went forward.
You should extend the steps far enough that you feel a bit of stretch between your legs but do not overextend and become unbalanced.
Remember to time the steps with your breathing. Inhale as you extend and exhale as you contract.