Do you know where your feet are? This may seem like a silly question, but many people look down at their feet as they walk. The primary reason for this mostly unconscious habit is due to the fact that these individuals lack a healthy, correct sense or awareness of exactly where their feet are located at any given time. These people are likely to have a poor sense of body awareness for most of their body.
They may know they are walking from Point A to Point B, but they have little sense of the specific movements their body parts are doing to take them there. From the neck down, they might as well be a blob. Given the latest statistics which show an all-time historical high in the number of overweight, out of shape people, it seems that many of us are blobs. Fortunately FloWalking is better than a shot of Antiblobicillin.
Lack Of Body Awareness Increases The Risk Of Injury
When people with poor awareness of their body walk they risk tripping over their own feet, twisting an ankle, or simply having their foot strike the ground excessively hard. Landing hard on heel can cause your foot to sustain two to three times your body weight in a single whack! The result can be heel pain (such as plantar fasciitis) or other injuries. If these “body unaware” people try other and more complex activities than walking they risk even worse injuries.
Because these people are “tuned out” from their body, they often don’t even realize that they have pulled or even torn a muscle until after they get off the treadmill. Of course, those who trip over their feet know immediately as nature has built in a tilt alarm mechanism into our bodies in the form of a painful, bloody nose.
I had a woman come in to my podiatry office recently with a sore, swollen foot which turned out to be fractured in two places, but because she was so unaware of the messages her body was sending her (in this case her foot), she had no idea when or where she had hurt it. She just knew it started hurting and swelling “sometime in the last few weeks.” If I get a sliver in my toe I can’t walk until I pull it out so I can’t imagine what it must be like to walk on a double fracture for weeks. It has to be worse than attending a Paris Hilton concert.
You Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone
Loss of awareness of our body occurs gradually as we age. However, diminished “body awareness” is not due to aging as it’s mainly due to performing a narrower variety of physical activities.
You may swim every day but if that is the only activity you do, as soon as you do something different, you will have less awareness of how your body is moving in space during that activity. By regularly performing a variety of activities, you help maintain a healthy sense of your body. These activities do not include eating pizza in front of the TV all night.
When we are young we run and jump and climb with boundless energy. With age, we find ourselves trading in our snow shovel for a snow blower, or even paying someone to plow the drive. We start searching for a parking spot closer to the mall entrance, or worse, getting ourselves a handicapped permit. Or perhaps, we just begin waiting for the elevator instead of taking the stairs. In L.A. Story, Steve Martin goes to see his neighbor by getting in his car and driving next door. Judging by how many people shun the slightest exercise, this scenario is not so far-fetched.
We soon wake up and realize the variety of light activities we were doing has dwindled to but a handful. And we have lost much of our awareness of our body. Like the old song says, You Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone.
When people have a poor sense their body, they have less precise control over how their body moves-they move with less intention. They are not thinking on some level about how they are moving, but rather they are just propelling themselves forward in any old manner to get them where they have to go. Often these people move in a way that offers their body (especially their arms and legs) the path of least resistance. Pretty soon the only exercise we get is when we leave the couch to get a beer or burrito or both!
However, the easiest way to move is not always best for us. Walking with poor posture is easier than walking with good posture but over time it increases stress and strain on our muscles and joints, and makes pain or outright injury more common.
Some people are surprised when they’re told they can control how they walk. They think walking is automatic like breathing, regulating your heartbeat, or paying taxes. However, walking is no different than any other activity-golfing, bowling, skating-there is a right way and a wrong way.
To walk correctly or as well as you are able, you first need to start thinking about how you are standing and moving now. Think about your posture as you are walking and going about your activities. You may want to even stand in front of the bathroom mirror and examine yourself from the front and side. The easiest way to notice problems is to look for lack of symmetry. For example, ideally, both shoulders should be the same height. From the side, is your head aligned over your shoulder or hanging forward? Do you look like Jabba The Hut in a windstorm?
You should also think about how your body is feeling as you walk (or do other activity). For example, do you slap your foot down? A woman who attended one of my FloWalking workshops said she was plagued with heel pain, knee pain and low back pain, and just “walked hard.” I watched her walk and saw that her feet pounded the floor with her every step. It was as if she jammed each foot downward, into the floor with every step. No wonder she hurt! You are supposed to walk, not hammer three inch nails into the floor with your heels!
When I pointed this out to her she asked in sheer astonishment “you mean I can walk without doing that?” “Of course you can,” I told her. This seems to be common sense but it is not common at all, and it is amazing how many do not realize they have the ability to change how they walk. In her case, I had her remove her thickly padded walking shoes and practice walking in sock-clad feet. I also showed her a couple of awareness exercises. Very quickly the pounding of her feet lessened and she began walking better, more like a light-footed ballerina than Godzilla stomping Tokyo.
I write often about the power of wearing thin, flexible shoes or going barefoot on my America’s Podiatrist website. I believe a big part of the benefits in going barefoot is it increases your awareness of the force with which your skeleton is hitting the ground with every step, be it running barefoot or in minimal, slim footwear. If we needed to clad our feet in $200 worth of plastic, we would have evolved as Homo Nikensis. (To learn more about the power of barefoot activity visit www.AmericasPodiatrist.com.)
Don’t walk like a mindless zombie! Think about how your body is moving! In your mind’s eye cycle through your body from head to toe and try to feel how each area, each part, is moving. The better your awareness, the better your mastery of walking (or any other activity) and the less likely you will injure yourself! Walk on! And walk right!
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