Friday, July 27, 2007

Narrow Trail Walking

In this age of reduced car use I've developed a personal practice/ treatment strategy/ homework piece that I call "Narrow Trail Walking". It involves walking at a normal pace, with a normal length stride, but with one foot directly in front of the other as if one were walking on a narrow trail. Feet are to be kept pointing forward.

We become awfully lazy walkers on our smooth, sprawling sidewalks. Most people walk as if they were on a trail about a foot wide; I ask them to practice walking on one that is just one foot-width wide. At first people walk as if they were walking a plank (all tentative, slow, eyes to the ground, arms out to the side for balance) and need to be reminded that they're still on the flat ground, won't fall, to just stride along.

To stride requires elongation of forward leg and telescoping or shortening up into the body of the back leg. Of course, all this is handled by the pelvis and low back, not the legs themselves, but it's a useful sensory cue to give a patient at first. Once they've got the rhythm, then one can tell them to become aware of how the pelvis has to rock and roll to get the legs smoothly organized, how the back has to sidebend/shorten on one side, while elongating on the other. Both lumbosacral plexuses get flossed alternately.

Next, I ask them to become aware of how their trunk must be capable of twisting and "wringing" to remain facing forward. This is a bit of a "stretch" for most people accustomed to walking like robots, with no trunk motion whatsoever.

The next piece is the arm swing. Invariably people try to swing the same side arm and leg at first, but they correct it easily once they know to, alternate to the legs which are going along fine by now. Voilá, all the peripheral nerves are now flossing through the body from the neck down. The spinal cord is rotating/wringing like a non-rigid bidirectional washing machine agitator, flexing and elongating, feeding itself inside its columnar support with every step.

The last piece is to ask them to keep their eyes level on the horizon, looking for food/predators, like any proper biped. It's interesting how fast heads stop bobbing. The neck automatically starts to do what it's supposed to do, i.e., adapt to movement from below, and balance a still head effortlessly over a moving body.

This N. American culture does not model simple walking very well to its children. I started imitating runway models, but they prance too much. So I kept the crossover portion but toned down the prance, then realized I was walking the way we bipeds likely evolved, on little trails through long grass, every cubic inch of body generating or receiving some sort of motion in the process. My kinesthetic input conjured up visual images of every example of truly graceful walking I'd ever seen. After awhile it does feel effortless and natural, and one needn't be a woman to walk gracefully. Narrow trail walking can take care of lower limb pain to a large extent, and keeps the outside of the legs stretchy and extensible.

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