On Walking…

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The waiting one does at airports is a good opportunity for blog writing. This time I’m people-watching at Bob Hope Airport (Burbank, CA). There is such a variety of ways to put one leg in front of another--the pregnant airport security guard, the woman with exaggeratedmovement in her hip joints, the men with none at all. I want to train other movement professionals to observe and intervene in clients’ walking patterns. How do I teach them to communicate effectively to someone who says, “You mean I have to learn how to walk all over again?” The movement of walking occurs most obviously in the legs, but the legs are not just carting along a static head and torso as wheels would do. The torso must rock above the hips in response to the exchange of weight bearing from one leg to the other--it’s the price we pay for walking on two legs. When this slight sway (the mechanics of the spine actually dictate both undulation and rotation along with the side-to-side rocking) is not present, the walking looks non-human, uncanny. Remember the Chinese soldiers at the 2008 Olympic games? It was their absence of movement that made them extraordinary.

Dysfunctional walking can be disturbing to observe. We look away from the elderly or the disabled, impatient at their slow pace. Via mirror neurons in our brains, the distressed movement in others’ bodies signals dysfunction to our own, and for an instant, feeling how that would feel, we recognize it as not normal. We know innately that healthy walking has to engage the whole body.

As the more obvious movement of the legs reverberates upward through the spine, causing the trunk to sway, rotate and undulate, the obviousness of the motion diminishes at the top. The head must be relatively still for the eyes to hold a focus. The energy of this motion cycles back down into the feet in a complex exchange of biomechanical activity so that forward momentum is not wasted. Energy is conserved and each successive step receives a boost from the one before. Spine, shoulders, arms, hips and legs all participate congruently, no one part predominating. When one body part stands out, we recognize caricatures--a macho walk with top-heavy shoulder movement; the “John Wayne”--exaggerated sideways cowboy swagger; the “Marilyn Monroe” with exaggerated low back and hip motion.

The more that 21st century lifestyles invite and require us to sit, the less we can and do move and the less we enjoy moving. Fascia not stretched daily solidifies, inhibiting movement abilities we take for granted. (See Gil Hedley’s “fuzz speech”.) With progressively fewer joints available to participate in joyful embodiment of life, can the human spirit survive what appears to be a progressive lack of mobility? It’s to our peril that we ignore the relationship between a healthy sense of self and the ability to move. Consider how your outlook changed the last time you had a cold, or got stuck in the middle airplane seat.

By now, I’ve reached my destination and deboard the plane, garnering myself to visit a loved relative in the hospital, an encounter I’d rather not be facing. I wonder whether I can retain joy of motion within my body and spirit when I enter the hospital ward.

© 2011 Mary Bond