How to Walk

"The main thing is the relaxation response of the non weight-bearing leg. All this information should not obscure that over-riding fact. This cannot be rushed and may actually take some years. But by practicing you will soon be able at will to shift your habitual style of walking into something more elegant, restful and beautiful.” -SH


Walking Practices 

These practices will, in time, create an elegant, painless and delightfully enjoyable walking style that we usually think as especially graceful or perhaps with African or Oriental native women.  It all boils down to sensing the foot that takes weight, at that exact moment, instead of letting the other leg, which should be passive and relaxed, be activated and occupy the awareness. Don’t try to control walking mechanics; instead just be aware of the moment of taking weight. 


Ideally, Standing Side-Shifting should be mastered first, for that is how we should have learned to walk in the first place:

  • Be aware of the moment of taking weight. Simultaneously sense the relaxation response in the non-weight bearing leg. These two are the primary things.
  • Don’t try to control the walking mechanics; it cannot be done. Walking is far too complex to intervene in real time. Awareness of weight bearing moments, and pushing the rear leg behind moments, is the better way.
  • Appreciate, relish the moment of taking weight on a foot. You don’t have to do anything more than that in order to walk in this new way (I say this, even knowing that every single person in the room will disobey this suggestion; it is such a deep compulsion for us to do, do and do more, even when it makes no sense. Balance restfully; grow taller in that moment of taking weight. It takes time to grow the ability to even sense the moment of taking weight on a foot as it initially contacts the floor (and not 1/10th second later); that is because most of our life we have instead over-activated the non-weight bearing leg to uselessly over-stride in front of our body while walking, and that has preoccupied our awareness and intentionality (as well it should, since it is such a harmful, useless movement). Just shifting the awareness (now and then, maybe five minutes a day) away from the non-weight bearing leg in this way, has a gradual, yet permanent and profound effect on walking over time. Most of us mistakenly believe walking is about “putting one foot in front of the other”. No - walking is more about powering forward movement by pushing the weight bearing leg behind. But in order to do that we must learn to sharpen our awareness of the moment the foot takes weight. That exact instant is when we connect or disconnect. There is magic in that.
  • Sense the rear, weight-bearing leg taking weight and pushing behind.
  • Grow tall, quiet neck; stay on one foot a relatively long time. This takes a refined ability to stand well balanced on one leg, even while walking. Somatic ankle work and balance work is definitely needed for most people in conjunction with this work. In other handouts I have described such a routine.
  • Encourage the shifting of weight. In the beginning, exaggerate it to counter-balance your lifetime tendency to shift weight very minimally in walking.
  • Decompress and grow taller on one side.  Imagine this if you cannot sense it.
  • Sense your tailbone rotating as you walk. Let this move your hips in opposition to your shoulder girdle. Allow your shoulder blades to slide and glide on your ribs in the upper back as you swing your arms. Keep the shoulders down, grounded. This is the culmination, but it requires empty hands (no purse etc) and a certain minimum walking speed (indoor walking is usually too slow to activate counter-rotation of hips and shoulders).


 

The main thing is the relaxation response of the non-weight bearing leg. All this information should not obscure that over-riding fact. You can only walk as fast in this new way as your ability to quickly activate and de-activate the relaxation response. This cannot be rushed and may actually take some years. But by practicing you will soon be able at will to shift your habitual style of walking into something more elegant, restful and beautiful. For fast walking, for now, you may have to go back to your old style. That is OK. It took me 3 years (at least) to be able to walk full speed with full relaxation of the non-weight bearing leg.  You will enjoy walking for a change; you will look forward to your daily walk. Do not expect this new way of walking to become automatic all the time. No – our old style of walking is a learned behavior, and well practiced. We will always have it as our default style – unless you are under 18 years of age and really enthusiastic and intuitive about learning and embodying this all the time. For him or her, it will be a lifetime pattern.  For those of us who are not kids, we need to accept that a little deliberation will be needed to shift into the better way of walking. The more you practice, the quicker and easier it becomes.

Once you are well into your practice, you can add variations or other practices to assist in walking. I like variety, and this is how I do, when I walk; I will take one of these items below and use it for a few minutes now and then. I don’t do more than that; it would begin to feel like an obsession, and true learning would not be happening. It is like an artist sampling a little dab of color on the paper; he does not use that one color the rest of the day! It is just that we want to have all these things immediately understood and available at will, in any circumstance. That means you have fully learned it and are getting the full benefit even if you are not thinking about that particular item at any particular moment:

  • Soft belly
  • World is moving around you – let each object move relative to other objects, let the vision flow, don’t stare at objects; see empty space; imagine using the two eyes as if from one eye between the ears, top of spine at center of head; magic paintbrush – meaning let the head move slightly while outlining objects with the magic paintbrush. This prevents us from fixating head and neck, which is what all of us have learned to do sitting at a desk. We don’t want to take that into walking.
  • Picking up an object off the floor and sticking the butt out. It is good to pracice this in conjunction with functional walking.
  • Chin in – feather. That means you imagine it only. You inhibit the tendency to thrust the head too far forward. It does not mean you tense and try to retract the head backwards. That is harmful.
  • Breathing as if nose were in the back of head, making noise in throat if you wish (it helps global breathing and reduces frontal self-image).
  • Walking by imagining ears being pulled gently (exceedingly gently, no force not even in the imagination) upwards. We learned to walk in the first place in auditory dominance. Much inherent somatic wisdom can come to the surface by practicing this apparently simple thing.
  • Sense tailbone.  Touch it if you cannot sense it, and let it hang and sense the top of head at the exact same time. Can you do it? If you can (at will, not all the time) sense your entire spine (that means being able to sense the top of your head as if the spine went that high, and your tailbone at the exact same instant not 1/10 second sequentially) as you use your eyes and breathe and walk – congratulations. You have an ability that very few people have; only very young toddlers can do this and only if they are well-adjusted, happy, without stress and undue adult interference in walking. It has countless benefits, emotional, mental and spiritual.
  • Inner vision:  see inside of the head and keep that awareness as you see outside, or have it available. Babies look inside their bodies; where their sensation guides them, their eyes look. Imagine a magic all-seeing eye at the point between the two ears at the top of the neck/spine. It actually makes sense when you do it. Look at the back of your forward, to the inside of the left or right ear, look down your spine, etc. Just a brief moment of this will reconnect your vision to your spine; meaning you will be able to keep spinal awareness as you use your eyes looking “out” into the world.
  • Abdominal breathing – not so easy to puff the belly in walking compared to standing or sitting, but do what you can
  • Counter-rotation of shoulders and hips. This can only happen, by the way, when we are walking fairly fast. That means you have mastered the relaxation response to be able to use it quickly, on and off.  Slow walking – there is no counter-rotation. When walking around at home or at the office, don’t try this – it would not be natural or appropriate and would look grotesque. You have to be walking fairly briskly, holding nothing in your arms, and in a straight line for an extended distance.  So, this is more advanced – but it should happen automatically as you learn and integrate this new way of walking. It may be needed to get private work, or take a walking workshop to learn this. It involves as a minimum:  shoulder blades that can slide on the ribs, using the talus bone without over-tensing feet at the moment of weight bearing, a supple spine that can counter-rotate, a head and neck that are not fixed, eyes that are not staring, relaxed hands, relaxed and swinging arms (can’t do it carrying a purse or briefcase), a relaxed torso and minimal over-striding. If you cannot do this, be patient. This is the culmination, very advanced. If you tried to do this without the right preparation, you’d be wasting your time. It would never feel natural. Work on the other items until they all become easy, then you can do this.
  • Wall-leaning. If head is forward take a little break and lean against the wall with the back of the head touching but nothing else.
  • See movement soft and open focus vision. We need lots of reminders not to stare, point-to-point while walking as we usually do.
  • Develop the ability to walk backwards at any moment you choose. This means your body organization is fluid and adaptable. It means your head will be nicely stacked, not too far in front. It means your breathing will be global and less frontal. 
  • Awareness of feet tension on weight bearing. Just notice your feet without judgment or intentionality, notice the moment they take weight. What happens? If you notice they are tensing (toes gripping and arches tensing), good! Allow that. Be with that. Appreciate that. Embody that. Be aware fully of doing that. Practice doing it deliberately for some minutes. Only then can you – with the slightest act of will – release that tendency to tense. This is not the same as “relaxing the foot”. If you take that “shortcut” you will be wasting your time.
  • Shifting weight; exaggerate this deliberately for a minute or so now and then.
  • Walk from the talus bones. It is a simple act of awareness, but oh-so difficult. Roman soldiers were taught to do this. You need to know where the talus is; look at an anatomy book. The talus is the ankle bone; above that are the two lower leg bones; below that is the foot. The ankle is a very small area! You need to be clear on this. Usually a private session is needed for people to “get” this. First practice ankle-talus bone awareness while shifting weight in quiet standing.  This means allowing softening of the feet at that important neurological instant of weight bearing, otherwise this cannot happen. If that instant passes without connecting to soft feet and active talus-balance ability, all kind of maladaptive movements and tension patterns will inevitably happen throughout the body. The lower leg muscles –long and strong and smart to balance you (billions of years of evolutionary wisdom there) work through the talus and if you are unnecessarily tensing the little intrinsic foot muscles you override or deactivate all that ancestral wisdom. The whole body tightens, you become uptight every time you walk. For many people, it becomes a lifetime habit. It cannot be overemphasized how important this is.
  • Activate the relaxation response while shifting weight. One whole side of your body is always in quiet, relaxation mode as you walk. Even fast walking!
  • Walk fast thinking take weight and push back, instead of foot in front faster. When you put a foot in front you must tighten your hamstrings to pull that over-extended foot back towards you. The hamstrings were not built to power forward propulsion in walking! The buttock muscles – much stronger and quicker than the hamstrings! They are used when pushing the leg behind. This is what Nature intended. Foot-in-front walking means chronically tight hamstrings; this is a prime cause also of hip and back pain and compression and a distorted  and fixated (not supple) lumbar arch. Many people think yoga stretches are needed to keep the hamstrings stretched out; but even better is not to keep tightening them up every time you take a step!
  • Active eyes, quiet neck. Crossover of trailing eye when looking to one side.
  • Magic paintbrush from top of spine
  • Take weight push back, stand tall, feather against chin, soft belly. When you can combine any of these items instantly at will, you have reached a high degree of mastery.
  • Notice what you do when you think of your pelvis. Probably you think of this big area including lower abdomen, hip joints, buttocks, elimination and sex organs, etc. That is OK, but there is another way to think and sense the pelvis: as the bottom of the spine, the sacrum and tailbone. The pelvis actually grew out of the spine, in utero. We want movement in the pelvis connected to the spine and ribs, especially while walking. This cannot happen unless we can easily connect with the idea and the sensation of the entire pelvis being “mostly about” functional movement connecting with the tailbone and sacrum and bottom of spine, not all that other soft tissue and the emotional charge that goes with it.
  • Gravity drop of chin as discussed in other pages. Keep chin level – yes. But, accomplish that by relaxation of back of neck, not by tensing front of neck.
© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin  www.mybodycanlearn.com