Sunday, December 11, 2011

What does walking feel like?

I went for a walk the other night and tried really hard to implement all the things that I've learned thus far in my alignment program.  The results were amazing.  I started landing on a straight leg, using my glutes to level my pelvis so I could clear the ground (instead of bending my knee a whole bunch) and I started using my hamstrings to push myself forward instead of my quads.  Never having walked with a relaxed knee before, it was really shocking, and cool to find out that I could even do it.

I tried to share my new walking knowledge with my spouse later in the week, and I realised that it is not an easy feat to accomplish.  For someone who hasn't been spending a lot of time rotating their thighs, holding their weight up with their lateral hip muscles instead of their quads, it's almost impossible for them to understand how it is done, what muscles to employ, what parts to relax, etc.  The first thing he said to me was that it felt lazy.  When I looked at him, he looked somewhat stiff, but also smooth.  So I've decided to break it down in a way that I think it makes sense.  This is what walking feels like for me.

First, I'll address the "lazy" feel of the walk.  When you stabilize your joints and stop flailing your body around, swaying back and forth like a metronome, it really feels like you're using less muscle.  And to a certain extent, it's true.  When you are stabilized, you no longer have to spend so much energy changing the direction of your upper body with every step.  When your body sways to the left, at some point you have to actively stop the motion, and direct your torso to the right.  Just try it.  Sway back and forth and see how much energy it takes.  Even if you're only swaying a little when you walk, the energy expended adds up in the end.

Next, there's the issue of feeling stiff.  I think that's because of the pelvic listing, where you use your lateral glute muscle to stabilize your pelvis, lifting it slightly so you can let your foot clear when it moves underneath you.  What feels stiff to a person used to flopping around when they walk is actually the sensation of having your joints stable and not moving in all kinds of crazy ways they're not really supposed to move (at least, not while you're walking).

The smooth feeling comes from using your leg like a gondola pole, pushing your body forward while it remains up right instead of falling onto a bent knee over and over.  You glide along without bobbing up an down, without your ankle rocking back and forth, without your knee constantly absorbing the pressure of every step (if you land on a bent knee), without your pelvis tipping from side to side.  It feels controlled and smooth as butter on the joints.

After walking like that for a good 20 minutes or so, I switched back to my old style of walking.  That's when I REALLY noticed a difference.  All of a sudden I could feel pressure in my knees, my quad flexing, I could feel my hips wiggling, you know that sexy lady walk?  (Not so sexy when it lands you in a walker or a wheelchair because of hip fracture :P ).  I could feel my body hitting the ground over and over, a shock wave that travelled right up to the base of my skull.  I never noticed it before because that's just how I've always walked.

The best part  is:  You can't unlearn.  Once you discover what walking is supposed to feel like you can't go back!  That's a comforting thought, considering moving in any way but the optimal way is damaging to your body.  It's really easy for me now to notice when I'm not holding my body in a good position, or when I'm walking in a way that is damaging to my joints.  Speaking of damaging positions, I've been seated for FAR too long and my back is starting to get angry.  Time to get up off my butt and get something to eat.  Happy walking everybody!!

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