Governor Pritzker’s “stay-at-home” order has left lots of Chicagoans wondering how they can safely enjoy the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the city’s Lakefront, adjacent parks, the 606 and the Riverwalk have been closed because people were congregating in large groups, you can still go outside to walk, run or bike ride. But you need to make sure you remain six feet away from other individuals. If these rules are followed, experts say spending time outdoors can be really good for mental and physical well being.
We asked Chicagoans for ways they’ve spent time outside while practicing safe social distancing — and we got a lot of responses. We’re highlighting an activity to try each day this week. Today’s is slacklining, something you can do in your own backyard to calm your mind and improve your balance.
Craving more balance in your life?
Slacklining involves balancing and walking on a suspended line of flat webbing that’s tensioned between two anchors. The lines are generally just a couple of feet above the ground, so the chances of injury are low, similar to jogging or biking. But of course, all activity has risk.
Dr. Danette Daniels is a biochemist in Madison, WI who studies the function of proteins in disease, including a new project on coronavirus proteins. She said slacklining has been a huge stress reliever from the intensity of work.
“Right now, it’s especially important to take care of your mind,” she said. “Slacklining is really good for mental training like balance and focus, as well as physical core work.”
Daniels said slacklining is a good activity to try during quarantine because you can practice it by yourself.
“I’m very lucky to have trees in my backyard so we don’t have to leave the house,” she said. “And it’s just a chance for me to get outside every day. I leave [the slackline] up all the time and take 5 to 10 minutes to try and stand and balance out there.”
Daniels said beginners should start with 2 inch-wide lines because they’re the easiest to set up and learn to walk on.
“Setting them up at low levels and at shorter distances is the way to start,” she said.
She added that if you are just getting started, you can use an overhead hand line so you have something to hold onto to help with balance.
If you’re setting up your line in between two trees, Chicago slackliner Joshua Bell said to make sure they’re at least 12 inches in diameter. There are also free standing slacklines you can use if there are no trees nearby, or if you’re slacklining indoors.
Tips for staying socially distanced
Bell said slacklining is a “coronavirus-safe” activity by nature.
“It’s hands free. Your hands should be completely up in the air the whole time.”
Victor Azcorra helps organize Chicago’s suburban slacklining community. He said the toughest part of social distancing has been not being able to do in-person meetups with community members.
“I hope they are still out there slacking when they can, and I’m grateful to still be able to attend to my practice at home,” he said. “Fortunately, I installed a permanent rig in my back yard last fall. This has allowed me to go out in the yard, let the kids run around and let me get a quick session in.”
Daniels said it’s still possible to find a sense of community online. Instagram accounts like Slacktivity and Slackrobats have been posting “quarantine challenges” to try in your own home setup. People post what they’ve been able to do relative to the challenge.
“It definitely feels like a community,” she said. “You’re seeing posts from people quarantined from Italy to Switzerland to Mexico, so you really get a sense of we’re all in this together, we’re all staying at home, we miss our communities, but we’re still connected.”
Brookfield-based slackliner Bones Rangel recently spent an afternoon completing a Slacktivity online challenge. (Courtesy of Bones Rangel)
Curious Citizens on why they recommend slacklining
“It exercises the mind and body while also helping to find peace. It’s a mechanism to quiet the mind while using your own balance as a toy. One of my favorite things to do is to wait for sunset, get out on the line, turn sideways into what is called “exposure stance,” and watch the colors of day change into night. ” — Victor Azcorra
“It has been an awesome thing to have while we are all cooped up because it allows us to get up and be active any time we’d like. It’s not only a physical activity, but it is also a form of active meditation for us, which we could all use more of in our lives at a time like this. It helps calm and strengthen our bodies and our minds.” — Amanda Leon
“There are actually many niches within the sport that people can focus on. Some people focus on the height, some focus on length, some on tricks, some on yoga. So [all] in all, I love that I get to exercise while having fun. It’s relatively simplistic, the community is small but great, and it’s a fun way to challenge yourself mentally and physically at the same time. — Bones Rangel
Katherine Nagasawa is the multimedia producer for Curious City. You can reach her at email@example.com.