The Yoga of Walking
‘Walk as if you’re kissing the earth with your feet’ Thich Nhat Hanh
I’ve always been a walker. It helps me to think. Walking for me is a time to ponder, process stuff and come up with new ideas. I’ve been walking even more recently and I hear a lot of you have been too.
Forget the myth of 10,000 steps a day. A study in BBC programme The Truth About Getting Fit showed that three brisk ten minute walks a day was enough to improve your fitness level. It can be a meditation and a whole body (and mind) workout.
Functional Walking Because Not All Walking Is Equal
There’s a functional way to walk that tones your muscles (especially your rear end!) strengthens your bones and soothes your nervous system, and there’s a dysfunctional way to walk that wears away your bones, wears out your joints (particularly your knees and hips) and fires a stress response with every step. Ouch! In case you need more motivation, functional posture and walking gait keep your pelvic floor healthy.
What Went Wrong?
How do we end up walking badly? When we learn to walk we copy our parents who usually don’t walk so well. We wear hard soled, solid shoes that don’t bend so we lose the nervous system connection between our brain and our feet (balance problems anyone?). Hard shoes restrict the delicate movement of our foot joints. We walk on hard, flat surfaces. All. The. Damn. Time.
Parallel feet. You wouldn’t drive a car with wonky tyres, you’d get them tracked into alignment. It’s the same with your feet. Line up the outside edges of your feet as shoe wearing has probably made your toes wander away from the midline.
Stretch your feet so that they bend and allow you to tuck your toes underneath. You need that movement to push off with each step.
The foot stretch is half way through the video, but you might like to try the first one too. Sit on a chair if sitting on the floor isn't so comfortable for you
Vary your shoes. If you’re used to having a heel (men's shoes, trainers and walking shoes have raised heels, it’s not just dainty lady’s party shoes) experiment with reducing it till you’re comfortable being barefoot or in completely flat shoes. Stretching your calves will help.
Attach your shoes. Flip flops, sliders and cute ballet pumps all make your toes grip and curl under.
Learn to stand with your weight in your heels, front of your thighs relaxed so your knees drop down (check in a mirror) with your hips over your heels, your shoulders over your hips and your chin drawn in.
Practice swinging one leg forward and back. Check in a mirror that it doesn’t go around or twist on the way through. Use your arms at the same time which sort of massages your organs.
Stretch your shoulders. Yes really, they pull on your hips and mess up the way you walk. Pull your head in too.
Walk This Way
Most people walk by sticking out a leg, falling forward and the leg catches them before they faceplant into the floor. Falling is very stressful for your nervous system and it ruins your knees. You can tell if you’re doing this by trying to speed up your pace. If you lean further forward you’re just trying to fall faster.
These are some of the simple secrets of walking to nourish your body (and mind).
Rather than think FORWARD, think BACKWARDS. Lift your heel and push backwards through the ball of your foot and toes so you can swing the other leg forward and through and land it softly (and quietly) on the ground. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Your head needs to stay on one level. If you’re bouncing up and down, then you’re pushing up, not back. You might need to work on the toe tuck stretch to find more bend your feet, or wear softer soled shoes.
Walk with your arms free so they can swing in a natural spiral around your body. That will help circulate your lymph fluid which is an essential part of your immune system.
If you’re carrying something, even up the load by putting your rucksack over both shoulders. A bag over one shoulder will ‘freeze’ that side in one place and your walk will be all out of balance.
Active Walking Meditation
You might be familiar with the slow kind of walking meditation, but this one you can do out on your regular walk without attracting any attention to your practice. Your breath and stride tend to be matched, this plays with the way you breath and mixes things up. Keep your breathing natural, you’re not meant to sound like Ivor the Engine!
Step 1 inhale
Step 2 inhale
Step 3 exhale
Step 4 exhale
Step 5 exhale…