Why I’m Not Walking When I Walk!
I thought to myself, “I’m not walking.”
And to my surprise and delight, that was the moment when I became freer, easier, and more comfortable during my walk yesterday morning.
I’ve been suffering with a minor foot injury for past couple of weeks and it can sometimes be painful when I walk on it. It’s doing LOADS better now, after receiving help at the Alexander Technique International Congress in Chicago last week. (Thanks, in particular, to John Macy, AT teacher and PT extraordinaire!)
During my walk yesterday, however, I was aware of the sensitive spot each time my foot touched the ground, and it affected the way I was walking. And not just the way I walked – it was putting stress and tension into my whole body.
Let me be more specific about this. The way I was reacting to the pain was putting stress on my body. And, even more than that, the way I was reacting to the possibility of pain was putting strain on my body. It was my anticipation of something that might or might not happen that was tensing me up, which in turn meant that pain was more likely.
I decided this was a good opportunity to use my Alexander Technique skills and explore some different ways of thinking to see if I could help myself.
I played with a few ideas but nothing I tried seemed very helpful. I also realized I was very much attached to the outcome I wanted – to walk without pain or discomfort.
Thankfully I decided to try a different tack.
That’s when I thought to myself, “I’m not walking!” *
Of course, I was walking. My intent, however, was to give myself the message that I didn’t have to “manage” my walking. I could leave it to my body-mind to figure out the details, and I could “get out of my own way.”
When we have – or have the possibility of – pain or discomfort, we can often get very careful, and try to manage all the details, in this particular instance, of how my foot landed on the ground. This is completely understandable. There is, however, a tension that accompanies this type of carefulness that is typically not helpful.
So, I was very clear with myself as I explored this “self-direction,” that this was an exploration, an experiment. I did not know what the outcome would be. I let go of my attachment, my desire, for the result I craved. Instead, I allowed myself to wonder, to simply be curious, about what would happen when I thought “I am not walking.”
And for the next few steps my walking did indeed get easier, more comfortable, and what little pain I had pretty much disappeared. Specifically, I found myself noticing that the way my body was balancing itself as I walked had subtly altered, that the amount of pressure going into my feet had reduced, that the parts of my foot that touched the ground as I walked had changed, and that generally I had less tension in my body.
It was like magic.
Not trying to manage how I was walking AND letting go of any attachment I had to the outcome I wanted were the key.
The real win for me, however, was to simply be in process, doing the experiment and noticing what happens whatever the outcome turned out to be.
The irony is, of course, that this actually made it more likely that the thought would indeed be helpful.
This principle has implications in many areas of our lives, from exercising, to working at our computer, to trying to get our point across at a meeting.
Our attachment to our desired result puts stress into our whole system – body and mind. When we can remain in a state of curiosity, in the process without attachment to outcome, stress is reduced, and very often the outcome we desire is, paradoxically, more likely.
This principle is an important part of what I teach my clients. It is an important skill everyone can learn and is always an ongoing practice. It’s human nature to want to get results.
Of course, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have goals. Goals are very important.
What I am saying is that approaching your goals, big or small, is better served by paying attention to the journey, to the how, to the process itself.
Why don’t you experiment with the idea that helped me next time you are walking across the room, or to your car? Just wonder to yourself what will happen when you think, “I’m not walking” while you are walking!
Or try the same idea with a different activity like typing at the computer (“I’m not typing”) or speaking (“I’m not speaking”) or even try out “I’m not sitting” right now as you sit reading this.
What do you discover?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
* I originally came across this idea from the excellent book, How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live by Missy Vineyard.
This was very helpful Imogen. I’m trying this today with the worsening injury to my upper arm and shoulder. I am getting therapy, but plan to get chiropractic work done on it too. I have been doing a similar exercise already, but will go even further as you have instructed. Thank you!
Hi Mary Jo. I’m so sorry to hear about your injury to your upper arm and shoulder. As you know, anything I suggest is no replacement for medical advice, but might offer a way to get out of tension patterns that contribute to pain and freedom of movement. I’d be really interested to hear what your find out. AND, the key thing is to be only curious about what happens, and not have any expectation on result. That really does seem to be the main way we can self-sabotage – when we are too focused on the result we want. So glad this was helpful to you. Keep me posted, and hope your injury starts to get better very soon.
It was particularly delightful to read your posting today after having met you at the Chicago conference with Robert R.
you remind me that the shadow of a shift in attitude can work wonders.The great gift of the technique for me are these secret windows to the soul.
More windows, please!
Hi Marion! I didn’t realize you read my blog. It was absolutely lovely to meet you in Chicago. And I agree with you, the more windows the better!
Hi Imogen, I enjoyed your blog. Great experimenting and noticing! And thank you for the credit and mention of my book. Best, Missy
Thank you so much, Missy. That means a lot. I recommend your book a lot, and we read it together in my book club.
Thanks for this post. It’s really interesting how the body works, and how it’s all connected. Getting more done by doing less, in a way. I tried this on my walk this morning and noticed a big difference. More ease, a lightness. Thanks again.
That’s so cool, Chris. The body and mind can work in weird and very wonderful ways.
Brilliant blog Imogen! Sums up my Alexander experience! I discovered this sleep benefit accidentally when first introduced to Constructive Rest, and always thought I was not”doing” Alexander work properly! You have just corrected that misapprehension and inspired me to resume the practice!
The negative directions of Missy Vinyard i first heard of in your podcasts with Robert Rickover and i went out and bought the book!
The “Not breathing” one is great to try out on friends!
Keep spreading the word.
Constructive rest is the only bit of Alexander I have retained alas, but probably the most powerful procedure I have benefited from!
Thank you for your generosity!
Can’t wait to do “Constructive Napping”again!
Peter (75 yrs)
Thanks so much for your comment, Peter, and for your kind words. I suspect you have retained more than you think. Enjoy your “constructive naps!”