As a FeldenkraisⓇ practitioner, I’m often asked, “What’s the best type of exercise for me to start doing now that I’m feeling better?”
I have many clients who’ve had to stop doing most of the activities they used to enjoy because of injury, pain, or illness. Once they start moving and feeling better, they want to start doing more. But…they aren’t sure where to begin.
For some, the question comes up because they recognise what they used to do may not have been all that good for them, as much as they might have enjoyed it.
For others, they’re just seeking a place to start, are open to exploring alternatives and want to know what’s best.
Walking is often overlooked as an excellent form of exercise.
Evolutionarily, walking the way we do is a uniquely human activity. Not because we walk on two legs (birds and other critters do too). But because of how we walk on two legs.
Walking is one of the most natural human movements. You were born to walk.
And yet, being upright on two legs does pose particular challenges to your anatomy.
Still, the benefits of walking for exercise are enormous:*
• Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease:
It’s true; you could run. But walking can be just as good, as long you walk long enough and at a fair pace. Besides, the risk of injury walking is less than the risk of injury running.
Just how far is far enough? It seems that 30 minutes of walking five times a week can have as much benefit as 20 minutes of running three times a week.
• Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia:
Over and over again you hear and read that exercise decreases your chance of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Two factors seems to be responsible for the above two benefits:
1. the increased blood circulation to the brain
2. the effect on insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation. High blood sugars and increased levels of insulin are inflammatory. This inflammation has detrimental effects on all tissue, not the least of which are your cardiovascular system and your brain.
• Weight management:
It’s not just about the calories you burn. In fact, the calories consumed during exercise is pretty tiny when you measure it.
No, it’s more about the hormonal changes that occur. Your blood sugars are better regulated (as mentioned above) which has an enormous impact on weight management. And, many stress hormones shift in a positive direction including the ones that help you get more and better sleep. These conspire to help your system regulate your weight better.
• Possible reduced risk of cancer:
I’ve heard several news items that indicated 30 minute walks several times a week can significantly lessen the risk of breast cancer.
Granted, I haven’t read the specific research studies, but what is clear is that walking does have many positive benefits.*
Here are a few more…
• Solitude and/or companionship:
You may take advantage of a little solitude on your walks. Letting your mind wander and shift pace as you take in the sights and sounds on your walks can help you solve problems, decrease stress, consolidate learning, and refresh yourself.
Or, you may use your walks to nurture relationships while having real conversations face to face (or in this instance, shoulder to shoulder 😉 ) on your walks.
AND one of my favourites —naturally —
• Walking is a way to practice what you’re learning in your Feldenkrais lessons….
Learning to walk with greater efficiency, power, ease and flowing natural grace can improve many other movements and activities. Because as you improve the quality of your walking, you are improving the relationship between the different parts of yourself.
And, if you are learning to walk with greater efficiency, power and grace, you’ll also be activating your “anti-gravity” mechanism more effectively, which has a beneficial ripple effect on everything you do.
Walking more efficiently and with flowing natural ease also helps you carry your head well.
In other words, your head becomes incredibly free to turn and move in any direction. This freedom comes as a result of improving your relationship to the ground and the use of your pelvis for power. This is good stuff!
The sense of well-being and ease that accompanies this way of organising yourself is hard to overstate:
- You feel more balanced (and I don’t just mean physically, on your two legs)
- You feel lighter (again, I don’t mean only physically) In fact, the better organised you become, the more walking begins to feel like floating, or gliding over the ground
- You’re breathing improves (which improves pretty much everything)
- You can see more and become more open to insights
- You can pivot, change course quickly and effortlessly — you feel more adaptable and resilient
The relationship between your head and pelvis is key to powerful, graceful, light movement and well-being.
The bottom line is — walking can be a great way to integrate and consolidate the learning and re-organisation that happens in your Awareness Through MovementⓇ and/or Functional IntegrationⓇ lessons while giving you many other health benefits.
And for me, I’m all for enjoying a bit of fresh air and the beauty of nature. The health benefits of being in green spaces and waterscapes in and of themselves have been shown to be rather remarkable.
But if all the outdoorsy stuff isn’t your thing, that’s okay too. Walking is something you can do anywhere…
If you’re an urbanite and enjoy the concrete jungle, you’ll notice a whole lot more on foot than behind a steering wheel.
Heck, if you don’t like dealing with weather and the outdoors, you can always walk on a treadmill.
Walking is a great form of exercise with huge benefits and little risk.
Still, I know not everyone finds walking comfortable, easy and pleasurable. So…
Here are a couple of quick tips you can try out to improve your walking:
Get the audio recording of a short guided process to try right away!
• Do not “try” to have good posture! Check this out if you’re wondering why I say this. It’s important.
• Look for quality movement: flowing, effortless effort. Watch that you don’t confuse familiarity with effortlessness. It’s easy to do. Just because it feels familiar doesn’t necessarily mean it is, in fact, less effortful.
• Shorten your stride. Yes, you read that right! S-h-o-r-t-e-n your stride. It’s not full proof, but, by and large, most people will find the quality of their walking improves instantly if they shorten up their stride just a little.
The point isn’t to walk with a stilted, choppy little step. It’s about allowing for more poise and grace instead of striving and straining. Shorten your stride a wee bit, notice the flow of your walking, then reach out again and feel if it’s a little move effortful or not. Find the effortless, flowing stride length that’s “just right” for you.
• Find your personal horizon. What the heck does that mean?
It means you’re looking for your “neutral” — the place where you feel you could easily change the direction of your movements and move in any direction just as easily as any other. You could go down, reach up, turn left or right, ALL equally easily. Read this post for more information about being neutral.
When you’re walking, there will be a direction for your gaze that will be your “neutral”, your personal horizon.
The geographical horizon is the place where the ocean meets the sky if you’re standing on the seashore. It’s that place way off in the distance. But for some, gazing in this direction is not optimal, given their shape, habits, self-image, understanding of movement and so on.
Maybe for you, you find your sweet spot about 30 feet out in front, on the ground. Or you might find it a little closer… Or a bit further off.
Maybe you’ve had a habit of looking down quite close, like 7 or 8 feet in front of you. But if you let your gaze move a little out and up, you find your breathing and ease of movement just a little bit better. Maybe not.
You have to find your sweet spot.
- Let your eyes gaze where you feel your breathing is easier, your balance is better, and you have that feeling that you could swivel more freely in any direction.
- Purposefully feel what it’s like to go much closer with your gaze than normal, and then way out on the earth’s horizon and maybe even a little bit up into the sky. Do this s-l-o-w-l-y and feel how your breathing changes…how your sense of balance, comfort, ease and freedom of movement changes…
- Then start settling into what works best for you —- your personal horizon. I like to call this the “Goldilocks Rule”… Find out what’s “just right” for you.
Try it out! Reading this will do you little good. You have to sense it. Explore it in real time. Do it for yourself.
Get your free audio download here so you can do this process with more guidance. It’s super short and sweet and will help you walk with more flowing, natural ease right away!