movement habits that harm
and how to kick them
movement habits that harm
and how to kick them
The habit that harms
If we humans" really are just big water bags consisting of 60% fluid, as people who know about these things say we are. Then have you ever wondered, as I have, why all that blood, lymph, interstitial fluid and whatever doesn't just collect in our ankles and feet?
Q: Why aren’t we all pear-shaped ?
Given that our old friend gravity likes to push everything earthward. And we have a big powerful pump situated quite near the top of our bodies but not at the bottom. How the hell does all that liquid get back up from our feet? And why aren't even more of us ...well, kind of pear-shaped?
yes I'm afraid there is an “however”, two actually.
and this can cause actual harm?
When the calf pumps don’t work, and re-circulation is impeded then some way down the road you'll run into trouble. Get ready to say hello to;
How exactly are we to walk in order to get the calf pumps purring along at optimum revs?
Here’s the sequence as evolution has figured it out so far. (long version - for the short version just look at the pictures)
That's it, a beautifully engineered cycle which has been perfecting itself over a few million years. Muscles at the front and back of the shin flexing and relaxing alternately in perfect synchronisation with each other. And the real marvel is that we don’t even have to think about it. Because as usual, the intelligent nervous system has written a self-running program. (see engrams blog for more details on how this works)
What does it look like when it goes wrong?
The good news is that for most people its all good until stage 4. (If you discount the “foot support technology” believers)
The parts that tend to go wrong are the five actions in stage 4. For your convenience, I have numbered and highlighted these in Red above, and below here:
Stage 4 (in-correct)
Do you recognise that walk?
If you do, you might think that all you have to do is stop walking like that, but it’s a habit so it may not be that simple. Remember what I said a few paragraphs ago about the amazing program that orchestrates this myofascial symphony of movement. Well, it may be that over the years of walking like this your program has become corrupted and if it has then it’s likely that the bug will have spread to some of the other programs which move you too.
Foot Judder Test
Here’s a test you can do now to see if your calf pump program has a bug in it. I call it the foot judder test.
Sit with one leg stretched out in front of you. Calf muscle resting on a chair and foot over the edge, so the heal is free to move.
Flex the front of your foot up towards your head, hinging at the ankle as far as it will go. Now, slowly release the foot so that the front moves down and away from you again.
Was the movement away, smooth and even, or did your foot judder and shake as the shin muscles tried to release? If the later then you have a bug in your program. The shin muscles have forgotten how to let go in synchronisation with the calf muscles switching on.
Don’t panic its fixable!
I’m going to give some great exercises to help you debug your system at the end.
How does it all go wrong?
How does the human gate pattern that has evolved over several millions of years to carry us over all the inventively difficult kinds of terrain and climate conditions that Mother Earth can throw at us, go wrong? Here, in the 21st century of all places!
We have ergonomically designed ffootwear (I think I mentioned that already, yes?) to support our arches and cushion our footfall. We’ve perfectly flat pavements to walk on and automatic stairs to ride on! We don’t have to “read” the ground ahead, looking out for tiger or bear footprints. Or climb over rocks and tree stumps where snakes and scorpions might be hiding.
No! We’re done with all that nonsense!
Getting the calf pumps working correctly with the relaxed shin release phase, as the leg toes off and swings forward is very difficult. Especially if you walk fast, stomp, barge, bustle and hustle……!
Well, its to do with the fact that if you walk fast, you aren’t walking sexy. And as WALK SEXY OR SUFFER is the title of this blog, I’ll definitely tell you why walking sexy is essential.
Why we can’t walk properly any more?
2. Boots (sexy or not)
It's also challenging if you wear boots that come up over the ankles. Because even if your ankles can bend, a tight leather sleeve keeping your feet at 90º to your leg doesn’t let them
4. Walking fast is not walking sexy and here’s why!
Try this experiment and see.
Stand with the weight equally divided between the two feet. Then without doing anything else, lift your right leg.
You fell to the right huh?
To stand on one leg without falling over, we have to first shift the centre of balance so that it’s over the standing foot.
Assuming that your hips work as they were designed, then, like it or not, there is a little pelvic swing inherent in a balanced human walk. It seriously doesn’t have to be Carmen Miranda, but a subtle shift across to the standing leg is necessary. Without the shimmy, you are falling from foot to foot, not walking.
When we walk fast its very difficult to get the pelvic swing, there just isn’t time for it! This style of locomotion bypasses the psoas muscle (more on this in a later blog) and is hugely energy inefficient. It will send a percussive shock wave up through your stiff body with every heavy step that you take. And your joints, cartilages, muscles, connective tissue, will eventually, let you know that they’ve had enough.
Slowing down a little allows time for the pelvis to move your centre of gravity over the standing leg. The swinging leg no longer needs to find the ground as quickly as possible to prevent you from falling. The leg can relax. The foot can be ‘placed’ softly on the ground and can adjust to whatever surface it meets. If you suddenly notice something dangerous or unpleasant under your foot, you have the time and balance between stepping somewhere else.
The pelvic swing also sends a gentle and very beneficial wave up through the spine, keeping it supple. The counter torque helping to power your next step.
Kicking that habit
Ok, enough What’s Why’s and How’s, on to the Fixit part. For those of you who stayed with me thanks for the company. For those who skipped straight here, hello again, let's get down to some practical stuff.
1. Foot Judder correction
With your leg over a chair or lying on a table, foot hanging off the edge. Take a moment to see your ankle as the fulcrum of a see-saw. The front of the foot with the toes is one half, the parts of the foot behind the ankle, the big heal bone is the other half. As the front moves up, the back moves down and vice versa.
Slowly repeat the sequence. Concentrate on using just the stored energy in the Achilles to lift the heal. Gently stroking the back of the calf upward as you release the Achilles can help with this visualisation.
Practice this for a few minutes each day. After a week or two (probably sooner) you will notice that the foot no longer judders as you let the toes point down. Combine this with a new walking style (see below) and bingo! you’ve rebooted (excuse the pun) your calf pump program
2. Getting the 'sexy' back into your pelvis
This next exercise is like performing an ultra, ultra slow motion walk but with just one leg. It aims to break down the step pattern to its tiniest individual components. The slow, repetitive movements of Tai Chi, when done with present moment focus are exceptionally good at rapidly reprogramming aberrant muscle memory and building new, more helpful sense memories.
Tai Chi stepping (almost a meditation)
First, slow waaaaay down.
Throughout this exercise always try to use this sequence
(*Energy here can be whatever works for you; a feeling of weight, of fullness, an electrical charge, golden light, molten jam…….whatever :)
For this demonstration we will step with the right leg and the left leg will remain planted on the floor. Once you have it this way round you can repeat on the other side.
(1) Standing with your feet hip-width apart and slightly turned out. The weight equally distributed between both feet. Imagine the head suspended from a hook, gravity taking the weight of the body downwards. A line which we will call your ‘central equilibrium’ (CE) hangs down from this hook. It travels through the centre of your skull, neck, torso and pelvis, exiting through the perineum to meet the ground midway between your two feet. Just in front of the two inner ankle bones.
(2) Begin to imagine the weight more in the left leg. Let the leg fill with energy and weight as you slowly move your line of (CE) across to the left.
Your pelvis has now shifted across to the left, and you have a feeling that you could lift your right leg without losing your balance.
(3 & 4) Slowly bend the right knee and peel the right foot off the floor. Heal first, toes last. (to save space I'm not going to write this for every movement but try to remember the sequence MIND, ENERGY then MOVEMENT for each stage)
Let the right leg swing forward, knee first, toes down, everything below the knee relaxed as the leg swings.
(5) Just before the foot lands flex the front of the foot up and gently place the heal on the ground, no weight.
(6) Then the outside of the foot, then the ball and the toes until the whole foot is touching the ground. Still no weight.
(7) Now pour weight into the right leg. Feel the CE line move forward and right. Feel the pelvis moving right and the head of the femur moving in the hip socket. Feel the three arches of the foot flatten as the weight moves entirely over the right leg.
Feel the pull upward on the left heal but try to keep the left foot flat and relaxed on the ground.
(8) Begin to move the CE line back and to the left, so that weight returns to the left foot. Keep the right foot on the ground until you feel an elastic pull on the leg.
(9) Let the right foot come off the ground, heal first, toes last.
(10) Allow the relaxed leg to swing back feeling for the ground behind you with the toes. Let the toes land, no weight. Then the whole foot, heal last, still no pressure.
If you are in the habit of falling onto your foot when you walk. The slight pause before the weight goes on to the foot each time may be surprisingly difficult. Persevere, it will get easier. We are trying to break a habit here. We want the weight transfer to become a conscious decision rather than a necessity.
(11) Once the weight is fully back on the right foot, you are ready to begin the cycle again with the next step forward. (12,13,14…)
This one isn’t an overnight fix, but it’s an excellent meditative way of coming back into your centre and your ground. I’ve been doing it almost every day for 40 years and am still discovering new layers. New places of holding, little corners where energy hasn’t been for a while.
as you walk to work, school or the shops today, take an internal look at your hips:
As always I am grateful to receive your comments and feedback. Especially if anything in this blog has been of particular help to you. I am also happy to hear opposing views and opinions but please keep it polite and respectful.
Watch this space for more Movement Habits That Harm and How to Kick Them
I’m Keith and I’m a graduate of the Dr. Ida Rolf Institute. I've also been a student of Tai chi for nearly 40 years .
As an Advanced Rolfer and Rolf movement coach, I help people to live more comfortably in their bodies. By learning how to align with gravity's flow my clients begin to move more efficiently and with less pain.
As a Tai Chi Instructor, I teach how to to find your line of balance, how to let go of unnecessary tension and to find the safe, still centre deep within us all from which all genuinely free movement springs.
I thought that some of the information and experience I have collected over the years might be useful to pass on! So here we go. I sincerely hope that you find something of benefit for your life amongst my ramblings.