Have you ever started to observe your gait and got lost in the rhythm of your stride? I love that a simple walk can lead to meditative focus in the mind. Mind you, it's not my entry point for meditation, because rather than being lulled into focus, I spend every second analyzing the myriad details of how I'm walking.
Why not join me?! Or at least entertain a brief investigation...
Here are just two things that might make you curious to observe your gait:
- Your gait is full of patterns that indicate muscle and tissue balance or imbalance. Imbalance in muscle strength and use is often related to joint or muscle pain causes.
- The way you walk, the attitude of your stride, tells reams about how you relate to the world around you (now or at some point in your past).
- And for all you runners: your walking gait can help you uncover patterns in your running stride as well.
I listed out 5 ways to get started observing the way you walk in my newsletter, which you can view here (you can subscribe on the same page if you choose).
Once you've started to pay attention to the details, you can take that information and ask some questions about what it means for you.
Hit the Ground Walking
A few years back, a Harvard study and several articles (such as here, here, and here) compared foot strikes in runners. (Though there isn't conclusive evidence, there is indication that a heel strike can be harder on your joints especially when your stride is long.)
But what does that mean for walking? Is a "heel, ball, toe" stepping pattern the way you're "supposed to" move through your foot as you walk? Or just a phrase bored into my noggin after years of dance training?
But first, what is your foot strike?
"Foot strike" refers to the way your foot first touches or "strikes" the ground on landing. Watch the below video playlist for a quick demo of heel strike, midfoot strike, and forefoot strike (which ended up looking kinda awkward, but it isn't always!):
So which foot strike are you "supposed" to use when you walk? Within a shod society, no matter how we walk, it's most likely "wrong" (or inefficient). Shoes often get in the way, as this NY Times article explains.
But by observing how you walk and experimenting with small changes, you might just determine a gait that best suits you (both with and without shoes). You can start by noticing how your gait accommodates different shoes. How do you walk in heavy winter boots vs flip flops? in high heeled shoes vs flats?
We're talking about your feet because the way your foot moves through each step influences your whole gait. And if shoes change what your feet can and can't do while walking, shoes effect your gait too. The ripple effect may be hard to notice because we get used to the things that we do every day, like walking. Practicing some observation of the ordinary can help you uncover the good and the not so good in your habits and "unconscious" patterns.
For example, you may not know, until you start to pay attention, that your shoes and how your walk contribute to your shoulder pain. Maybe not directly, but anything that happens above is going to be a response to what's happening below (or vice versa). But when you bring unconscious movements into your awareness, you can start to unfurl the layers of influence in every move you make.
It can help to think of the body as a chain of links.
Each link needs to be strong and mobile (within a certain range) for the whole chain to move well. Let's stick with the shoulder pain hypothetical to look at how this works.
If your inner foot collapses towards the floor, it will take your ankle, then your knee along for the ride. This can exert an undesirable work-load on the muscles of your hips, and lead to an unbalanced pelvis. When the pelvis sits askew, the spine has an uneven base of support. This can throw the shoulder girdle off its center as well. More likely than not, muscle strain will result at each one of these links, though you may feel only shoulder pain.
How you use your feet is part of how you stand, how you walk, how you move, and how you engage with the world.
So, how can you learn to move better, all from the ground up?
It's not a quick fix (is there really such a thing with healthy movement?), but here's my advice:
Learn to Move Better From the Feet Up
- Pay attention to where in your feet you put your weight (in standing, walking, etc).
- toes or ball of foot
- outer edges of feet
- inner edges of feet
- evenly across the whole foot
- Exercise your feet (see video below)
Watch this short video playlist for three ankle + foot movements you can do to condition your feet for every day life!
These exercises promote foot and ankle joint health and are appropriate for "all levels". Doing them daily would not be excessive.
Go on, give these a try and then share your observations in the comments below. As always, I love to hear your own stories of new awareness!
And if you found this useful, share it with your friends. Most of us gotta walk somewhere, right?
Observing with you,