The Joy of Walking
Updated: Sep 28, 2021
Can we give a cheer for a simple, pleasurable walk to clear our head, ward off the blues, or help us untangle a web of thought? How about walking to reduce back pain, to improve coordination, or to rest the eyes? Walking is so basic that we can overlook its extensive benefits--those that take us beyond the obvious reasons such as exercise, and seeing and connecting with nature and people. I often suggest to students to take a "mindful" walk after a private session or class. What I mean by that is to walk for the sheer pleasure of moving and paying attention to oneself and to the environment.
I am walking my way through this pandemic, and doing so provides me time to integrate my experiences in my life, in my work, and my own complex responses to the many issues we are currently facing. I walk for pleasure first, and then, for exercise. They are not mutually exclusive, but like a Feldenkrais® lesson, the questions of how we can make walking easier, more elegant, and more comfortable rise to the surface. The exploration itself can shift us into an entirely different and more pleasurable state.
Sometimes, my walk is just a series of brief scrambles around the neighborhood to take a break from a computer screen. On other days, I take a long slow pace through the neighboring park. On still others, I escape to a local trail, picking up the pace to sweat and to feel how my body responds to being pushed.
I love to exercise, but I approach walking mostly through a sensory-curiosity approach. By paying attention and walking slowly at the beginning, I can gradually shift my organization and speed up. While speed is not my focus, I often find that I ended my walk with more efficiency, or that I added distance and pace but feel more energy than when I began. I love to experiment with ways to feel my strength and power when I walk, noticing when I can speed up while working less. I love to challenge myself to take hills with the easiest possible breathing. I love to play with the concept of how to move more quickly, more smoothly.
Sometimes, I can tell that I am a disorganized mess when I first begin a walk. I tend to drag my left leg, an old pattern. I also sometimes notice that I grasp with my left foot, no doubt a repercussion of many injuries and three left knee surgeries. My back can feel stiff, and my feet make hard clumping sounds on the pavement.
I always complete my walk in more coordinated fashion than when I began, feeling better and refreshed. I have learned to be with myself in a way that is not self-critical, but instead, curious and optimistic. As I often say in my classes, it is not just WHAT we are doing in our lessons, but HOW we are doing it. Our approach is what makes the difference. And we learn to be very clear in our sensing of those differences.
We learn to value what we inwardly sense and feel as quality, more elegant movement. Only then will we be able to make the changes that are useful to us.
When I feel my left leg dragging behind, I know to direct my attention to my pelvis and lower back. I know how to bring more of my back into the movement if I pay attention, with immediate results. I also play with images as I walk. I imagine my pelvis rotating up and down and around sort of like bicycle pedals. I think of a large X along diagonal lines, crisscrossing at my navel. I play with softening my feet, feeling the one in the back peel from the pavement as I notice that same side shoulder swinging forward. I imagine my spine moving in a wave, my chest joining in, while my arms resemble a version of a swinging door.
The sound of walking is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of it for me right now. I can make each foot's contact with pavement sound equal in its force, and I like to ask how I might make no sound at all as my feet touch the ground (an unreachable challenge but fun to feel in my body as I try).
I have recently been exploring switching my vision around. My left eye is dominant, so I pretend that my right eye works as my left one does. That is having interesting consequences in my neck and shoulders, translating all the way down. I also try to remember to soften my eyes. When I do that, I feel my entire body let go of tension I hadn't perceived, and I can feel the air around me. A reminder of my connection with my surroundings.
As I walk my way through this pandemic, I am grateful to know how to feel my body's aliveness as it informs and reminds me that with a little bit of patient, kind attention, things improve. My mind has learned to listen to my body, and my body knows that the trained mind is an ally.
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