Walking is one of the healthiest exercises and a great way to practise embodied mindfulness and some of the principle of the Alexander Technique.
Your body loves the flowing, perpetual rhythm of walking, but have you noticed, it doesn’t always feel that way. We often feel the compression of time, rushing to get to a particular destination, head cluttered, awareness contracted, breathing stilted, stiff joints and muscles; and not very present in the activity of walking; particularly if is a very familiar route.
Walking can be a very natural easy activity; however, we bring our own unique habits and characteristics into walking.
Consider for a moment your particular way of walking, and what habits and patterns may accompany your walking pattern?
Look around today and so many people are using mobile phones, their heads pulled down into these devices, (causing potential harm to the body), narrowing their field of vision, often clutching bags with tight hands, arms, shoulders and shuffling or waddling on their feet.
Think for a moment of some the strange walks you’ve noticed – how and why do people get into these awkward habits? Most people aren’t even aware of the way they walk.
Our habits and patterns of walking and moving are influenced by how we feel, our self- image, our view of the world, our culture, fashion, our communities, family, job/title, peer group, celebrities and popular culture.
We have an innate desire to imitate and model those around us we admire or aspire to be like. Think of people that may have influenced how you walk or move, this could have been when you were a teenager, or even your earlier formative years.
The way you think and the way you feel and your self-image have a big influence on how you walk and present yourself.
The quality of thinking we bring to the activity of walking is fundamental to begin to change habits, awareness enables you to distinguish and identify habits, so you can choose your habits instead of them choosing you. Remember most of your habits are unconscious blind spots.
Walking is one of the best ways to practice and implement principles of the Alexander Technique.
The first thing is to become very curious (without Judging) about walking, begin to notice your rhythm and pattern of walking, what are you thinking or feeling when walking?
Becoming present will have an immediate influence on how you walk; it will take you out of your automatic habit of walking and thinking, which will have you walk more purposefully, which will positively influence your balance and coordination and how you feel.
Here are some thoughts you can bring to the activity of walking.
Think of your head floating up on top of your spine. Think of being light, think tall, think of your shoulders being open and wide.
The balance of your head determines overall coordination of the spine, which then influences the coordination of your walk and your movements. So, the head balance is crucial for maintaining poise, what will help is to let your eye line be level with the horizon. Don’t look down at the floor, as it displaces your head and puts you out of balance. The rest of your body then has to compensate.
If you do need to look down, think of your eyes rolling down or your head releasing on top of the tip of your spine – so your whole head and neck isn’t pulling down.
Keep a sense of the space all around you, use your peripheral vision, think of expanding your vision. Think of everything coming towards you, rather than you walking and pulling (rushing) towards everything. You can think of the future coming towards you.
Think of the earth giving you support. Sense your feet meeting the ground and the ground meeting your feet – allow the feet to roll spread, open and widen as they meet the ground, imagine your meet massaging the Earth and the Earth massaging your feet.
Notice the weight that falls into each foot, is it equal? Is it light?
Notice the movement in the pelvis and shoulders when you walk, think of a spiral movement flowing through your torso – are your arms swinging freely at the sides, are your hands clenched? is your jaw tight? are you frowning? When walking let the knees bend easily and release forwards and away from each other.
We always move easier when we smile; be playful, as you practise you will be cultivating awareness and presence in your activities.
When all this works well gravity becomes your friend; gravity works to support you.
So, remember to think tall and light, so as to walk more freely and easily, with poise and balance. As well as being great exercise, walking is a wonderful time to work with some of the Alexander Technique ideas. It doesn’t have to be a walk in a special place, just your regular walk.
A few tips to experiment with when walking:
1) Don’t keep looking down at the floor as it displaces your head and puts you out of balance. The rest of your body then has to compensate.
2) Use your peripheral vision.
3) Keep a sense of the space all around you, the Earth beneath your feet, the sky above your head, the space in front, to the sides and behind you.
3) If you are walking well, you are moving forward whilst releasing downwards and lengthening upwards. This stimulates postural reflexes which send us up against gravity – we ‘fall up’ in an easy and free way while walking.
Remember we always move better with a smile.
Nicholas Brandon is a qualified teacher who teaches in Central London, Notting Hill, W11.
The Alexander Technique is a unique, evidence-based mind/body practice, developed over 120 years ago. This subtle yet powerful method is now established worldwide in the performing arts. Singers, actors, musicians, athletes, as well as people in pain or recovering from injuries, have benefited from having lessons. To discover more or to find a local teacher visit the society of teacher of the Alexander technique. http://www.alexandertechnique.com