As I wrote in my previous blog, A Simple Hack That Brings A New Ease Into Your Walking, this habit of creating unnecessary work in my torso was deeply rooted – so deeply rooted that even after decades of being an Alexander Technique teacher, I hadn’t noticed it. It was a habit that led directly to harmful neck tension and to a walk that was heavier than it needed to be.
Once I noticed this, I was able to walk with greater ease by being quietly clear in my thinking that the work of walking was coming from my lower body. My torso was of course certainly moving – all sorts of twisting and spiraling – but those movements were in response to the activities going on below. My job was to get out of the way of those responses and not distort them by any efforting on my part.
Of course my old pattern would sneak back in and sometimes it would take awhile for me to notice, but it was getting easier and easier for me to re-direct my thinking and return to the lighter way of walking I now knew how to bring about.
But… a couple of days ago, I was walking to a class and something strange happened.
All seemed well at first but I soon noticed that I was reverting back to my old habit a lot more frequently.
“Why?”, I asked myself.
After a bit of introspection, I realized that the situation was a little different than it had been for most of my previous walks. First, it was an unusually cold day and I had not dressed quite as warmly as I normally would and was eager to get to my warm indoor destination. And second, I felt a little extra pressure to get to my destination soon because it was my job that day to set up the tables and put snacks out.
The obvious question was: Did walking with greater ease also mean walking more slowly? Did I really have to sacrifice speed for efficiency?
As it happened, the streets in my neighborhood are laid out in a nice uniform grid system. I had 2 blocks of equal length ahead of me, flat Nebraska terrain, and a watch with a second hand – everything I needed to conduct a little experiment!
For the first block I was, for the most part, clear in my thinking that all the work of walking was coming from my lower body. My footfalls were lighter, but I felt like I was moving more slowly.
For the second block, I allowed my old pattern to kick in. My walk was heaver, but it felt faster.
The results? No measurable difference in speed! I had been conflating speed with effort. I was like a car driver who tenses his or her body when trying to get somewhere more quickly.
Former scientist that I was, I conducted the same experiment on the way home with the same results.
In some ways, this illustrates a classic Alexander Technique idea that our feelings cannot always be trusted to provide accurate information about what is really going on.
It would be nice if now, after conducting these experiments, my “effort to rush” problem was solved. But of course it doesn’t work quite that way. I found myself slipping into it again a few hours later! But this time it was a lot easier for me to remind myself that I really, really, didn’t need to push my chest forward in order to move more quickly. All I had to do was to simply move my legs a little faster while continuing to leave my torso alone.*
I encourage you to conduct a similar experiment or two and see what happens. You might also find it interesting to observe others as they walk and see what you notice. As I wrote in my earlier blog, and illustrated with videos, you wouldn’t see Fred Astaire, or F. M. Alexander pushing their torso’s forward when they walked!
And you won’t see it in any of the many YouTube videos showing women carrying heavy loads on their heads, as in this 10 second clip:
I’d love to hear what you discover below and/or on Facebook.
*This is something the late Marjorie Barstow used to say.