Parasympathetic Breath: A Walking Meditation

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The Benefits of adding Yoga, Posture and Meditation Principals to your Morning Walk...

This is deceptively simple— but it can be profound and change your life!

In my 26 years at the gym doing yoga, pilates and weight training, I have come to realize the most important thing is not strength, nor flexibility— it’s posture.  

The big mistakes I see people making are:

       They do not keep their hips flexible.  

       They have a forward head posture.  

       They allow their shoulders to hunch forward.

       They do not hold their stomachs in.

Guys at the gym all want strength— but as they age— their lack of flexibility and poor posture leads them into injury. (Usually knee and rotator cuff issues.)

Even yoga practitioners forget about posture off the yoga mat.

Focus first on 1. Posture, 2. Flexibility, and when these two fundamentals are in place— like a mast of the ship being in alignment— then 3. Strength will build as Nature designed using the proper foundation. And each leg of this trio will maintain.  

Our bodies are a Grand Symphony— we must think in terms of the whole: whole systems complementing each other.  

Just having a habit of leaning the head too far forward has profoundly negative consequences, (I know!) and it takes a mindful practice looking closely at all aspects of lifestyle to correct it. You can easily do something great like Yoga for an hour, then go and sit in a chair that completely undoes everything.  

So— think holistically. A walking practice first thing at DAWN when the body and mind are ready to be programmed for the day is a great way to work on resetting the Grand Symphony of the Body/Mind~ and Spirit too.


Breaking this Down Further:

The following Posture Principals builds on observations of traditional cultural practices as studied by Weston A Price, Esther Gokhale, George Catlin, the modern Ancestral Health Movement, and the tradition of Yoga.

It is our habits that make us or break us.

From the feet up:  In Yoga, we learn that the feet are the foundation for the rest of the pose, so foot placement on the mat is very important. The feet bear weight evenly, with toes spread and arches lifted. This creates ankle flexibility which translates all the way up the legs and spine.

So, when walking— for us moderns if needed— the feet must be supported with the proper footwear and arch support. Traditional cultures walk barefoot and the result is an elegant gait. Think of the Maasai and their rolling gait. The leather sandals of the Tarahumara Indians allow their feet to spread and grip the ground as they run. Or they run barefoot. Shoe selection is critical, and the shoes must be comfortable for you to be able to walk therapeutically. Do your homework. Do not select a shoe which has a large extension on the heel. This creates a shorter clomping sort of gait. You want to achieve a rolling gait where you can fully extend the foot back all the way— while lengthening the hip flexors fully.  

If you have ever noticed someone walking quickly in Dansko soft clogs, you will see that they are able to fully extend their stride. The shape of the toes being rounded and the heels being rounded allows for this. This is a great traditional designed shoe model to keep in mind for selecting a walking shoe for this fast paced walking.  

Walking on the beach while being grounding is great, but be mindful of the uneven lengths your legs have with the elevation change of the sand.


Hip Flexibility is Crucial. 

All traditional cultures have way more hip flexibility than we do, especially outward hip rotation. 100 year old people from Okinawa, Japan, can sit cross legged on the floor. (And get up again.)

All traditional cultures squat, too. Modern cultures don’t— much to our detriment. Somehow Ester Gokhale omitted squatting from her book— but most every yoga class I have been in is sure to include squatting poses. Lots on the Internet on the virtue of “squatty-potties” which is the position Nature made us to eliminate in.  

Sitting is a terrible practice, as it allows hip flexors and quads to shorten and take over. My pilates teacher years ago used to say: “Hip flexors pull you into old age!” He was right!

When the hip flexors take over— you lose control of your stomach, as the whole area tightens up. You lose control over the glutes as well. The hip flexors also pull the upper torso down when they tighten. There is a translation of tightness all the way up.

Walking is the anecdote: it lengthens the hip flexors. If you have the right shoes to allow for longer strides— you can make great progress in loosening the hip flexors and allowing the glutes to work. You want to squeeze the buttocks at the end of the stride.

Hopefully your shoes have a good metatarsal grip to allow your toes to spread and grip a bit as you walk. 


Think Yoga— think Stretch:

You want to think of your entire body lengthening and stretching out in ALL dimensions as you walk. This is a Mindfulness Practice— the same way that yogis approach their practice on the mat. So— the spine is lengthened. The chest is lifted, the shoulders are back. In yoga we use the mirror to make sure we are in correct posture. In the gym, I practice walking like this and seeing where I need to work more on using the mirror. We really have no idea of how much we hunch over as we walk when we get older— unless we see ourselves on film or in the mirror. So— use these tools to self correct. You can see where you want to go with your posture, and feel where you should be while looking in the mirror. Then— just remember what that feeling is while walking outside.

Esther Gokhale in her You Tube videos titled: “Walk This Way” and in her book “8 Steps to a Pain Free Back…” describes how when the spine is held lengthened, the shoulder blades are squeezed together to counterbalance years of hunching (and as Ester says using the “Inner Corset”) — the arms are then able to swing freely. The palms then can face forward as you walk as the shoulders are rotated outwards. The chest is up, and the head is lifted up. The feeling of the arms moving freely and having more range of motion is amazing— definitely cultivate it!

Another benefit of spreading the chest and stretching in this manner is that the diaphragm begins to loosen up— allowing for easier fuller breathing. You cannot imagine unless you do yoga how constricted your upper body is— and how this tightens all the package around your lungs. Just by putting your body in the proper posture, and a few well placed stretches (like rotator cuff stretches) you can demonstrate to yourself how much more freedom you have in your ability to breathe— and how good it feels!

When I walk now I actively move my arms around to loosen them up. This may look a bit odd— but why not use the time to exercise the arms as well as the legs?

More soon….

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