Do you find walking a bit of a pain? When walking, do you easily get stiff and ache in the legs, lower back, hips or knees? If so, you may be surprised to know that you can do something about it for yourself…by changing how you walk.
Pain or discomfort when walking is not a condition solely related to getting older. In fact it’s got little to do with age at all as young people can equally experience excessive tiredness in the legs or back as much as elderly people. Conversely it is quite possible to reach very old age…and I mean in the 90s or more and still have no problems in walking comfortably.
In the majority of cases of pain or discomfort when walking, there is nothing wrong with us at all, but there is something wrong with the manner in which we walk. We may have never previously considered that there is any other way to walk than the manner in which we currrently walk i.e. believing that walking is simply walking….and that’s it. Well it isn’t. One obvious change we can easily make is the length of our stride; shortening the stride can reduce the strain considerably. If we’re in a hurry we can simply speed up the speed of steps….shorter and quicker. The speed of our walk is not a significant factor if we are in good balance and walking well, however if we are slightly off balance and our poise (or posture) isn’t so great, then rushing (for most of us) will put us further off balance and increase the level of strain and fatigue. Let’s look at walking in more detail…
The manner in which we walk is governed to a very high degree by various postural habits that have developed over the years, such as stooping, slouching, stiffening our necks. But as a young toddler aged 2-3 we would have walked beautifully in balance. The elimination of postural habits are necessary if we are to change our walking style. For all humans to be really healthy and fit, we need to be functioning in the way nature designed (or evolved) us and that is as young toddlers will demonstrate…very free and supple in the joints and also expansive, tall and broad all at the same time. Problems occur when we shorten in stature, compressing downwards and compacting joints when ideally we should be free and expansive. But this is not what I wish to discuss here as I’ve written more about this topic in a previous blog entry….. ‘Developing a strong back’.It is only when we are at our full stature…expansive at our full height and width that we will function at our best, beit walking, simply standing or running or involved in any other activity we may wish to participate in. The Alexander Technique is a practical method of eliminating postural habits and restoring this very quality of free expansiveness which we enjoyed as young children.To walk easily and without strain, we should firstly stand at to our full height…without effort, simply by intention to lengthen (meaningful thinking). Our neck needs to be free and our whole body weight, hips, lower back and head should all be roughly aligned over the ankles as much as possible. The weight should be back more over the heels rather than the balls of your feet. Bring your weight back…intend to lengthen and also intend your lower/mid back area to come back and widen. If your tendency is to arch your back, this needs to flatten and widen. It is the lengthening and widening of your back that will enable your legs and arms to move freely. This quality of lengthening and widening activates the correct co-ordination of muscles to support us and move us around as nature intends. When the lower back is not expansive in this way ie if we are shortening and hollowing the back we disengage the supportive muscles and stiffen to compensate resulting in compression of the joints, stiffening of our hips and neck and shoulders in compensation which all contribute to interfering with the fluidity and agility of our movements.
Having firstly ensured that we are standing at our full height with a free neck, to begin to walk we should simply ensure firstly that our weight is back over the heels which will enable us to bend one knee forwards. As we bend one knee so one foot goes out a small distance in front, we allow ourselves to slightly tip or incline forward from the ankle of the foot remaining on the floor (like felling a tree). The knee moves forward taking the foot with it so the heel arrives on the floor in front of us. As we are very slightly leaning, gravity will propel us forward without effort and as our body weight passes over onto the heel that is in front, our other knee can bend so it passes through underneath us and the foot goes on the floor in front again…..taking a second step. This is an ongoing process of allowing gravity to propel us forward as we take each step in turn, leading firstly with the knee. The key is to not lean too far and continue lengthening forward and upwards in stature at the same time, and not pull our head backwards as the neck should remain free at all times.
It is very important that our lower back is not arched as we move forward but actually remains as far back as possible, so the curves of our spine are not exagerated. To help with this we can intend our lower/mid back to come backwards and to widen.
Widening the lower back empowers our whole body….a widening back is a strong back. But it doesn’t happen in isolation; it needs to be part of the process of intending to lengthen and widen in total, with a free neck. Using the step by step proceedure of the Alexander Technique Directions enables this to come about.
When walking and endeavouring to not harmfully hollow or arch our back it may be helpful to think of our lower back ‘going’ backwards from the direction we’ve been walking. i.e. if you are walking away from the post office, think of your back going bacwards towards the post office, in the opposite direction from which you are walking. At the same time, think your head to go forward and upwards, take short strides and point your knees in the direction you’re going.
Also ensure you make the minimum of effort. The quality of movement should be free, expansive and effortless.
As we have had postural habits all our lives, changing the manner in which we stand or walk can feel very foreign and even just simply wrong. And doing something in a manner that feels wrong is a difficult thing to do, without someone guiding us such as during an Alexander Technique lesson. But do endeavour to pay less attention to how it feels as your sense of feeling is not as reliable as you might like, and pay more attention to following the principles and guidelines. Bring your mind to how you are walking…use your intelligence and your thinking to help you.
Be mindful of your balance by keeping your weight back, lengthen in stature, take short strides and take the effort out of it by walking as freely as you can. The whole process of walking can really be very light and easy.