The way of the walker: two principles for walking well

Children have a repertoire of natural and playful walking styles. We ancients tend to get stuck.

Children have a repertoire of natural and playful walking styles. We ancients tend to get stuck.

Walking is one peg in the exercise programme that’s part of my boot camp for old age, my year of looking intently at darn near every aspect of my life.  And there’s more to walking than the fact of walking. Let’s consider various ways of walking.

We could start with a thesaurus. For example, do you generally amble, dawdle, glide, limp, lurch, march, meander, mince, pace, perambulate, plod, prance, prowl, ramble, saunter, shuffle, skulk, stagger, stalk, stride, strut, stumble, swagger, toddle, totter, tramp, trudge or waddle?  

And how would you know? 

Oops, was that the walking dead?

Have you caught your reflection in a shop window lately, passing by? Did it take you by surprise? Was that a reflection of the real you, a recognisable you, locomoting a familiar body along the footpath? Or did you catch a glimpse of someone much older than you feel?  

Any way of walking is better than not walking, and your way is your way, unique and beautiful. Our walking style is an expression of who we are. That bears thinking about… 

Yet we can tinker with our walking style. Any bad habits, or habits we dislike, are not necessarily our doom forever. At least some of them can be modified, if we so choose.

It seems to me that some ways of walking deliver added value. They may stop us from looking and feeling very old before we are very old. If that makes sense. Which is does to me. 

Principle #1: Walk mindfully

The number one rule for me is to be mindful as I walk, to be aware that I’m walking. My level of awareness varies hugely. Generally I try not to work on problems while walking, but then sometimes I’ll go for a walk for the express purpose of solving a problem. At other times, I’m happy to walk while allowing a problem to solve itself. 

So there’s no must about it. Meditating as you walk or hurrying on an errand or striding out in company or hiking up a mountain for exercise? It’s all good. The thing is to be fully conscious: which is both simple and not simple. 

A “walking meditation” formalises mindful walking to the nth degree. This involves walking along a short path, totally focused on just one thing: walking. The subtle movements of muscles and joints from the soles of your feet to your neck, the quality of every sensation, the way your head balances on your neck, the touch of your clothing, the air you breathe, the way your spine moves, the sun or wind on your skin… 

I’m no expert on walking meditation, so let’s move on. To extrapolate, any walking can be an opportunity for calm awareness. I sometimes think about one body part as I move along, such as thighs or shoulders.  Or I track the movement of air over my skin. Sometimes I focus on something straight ahead, sometimes on what’s in my peripheral vision. 

The more you look around, the more there is to notice. Children to admire, cats to be acknowledged, paint squiggles on the pavement, fuschia buds begging to be popped. 

Nowadays as I walk, I consciously relax my neck and throat and jaw, because that’s a problem for me. I don’t need my jaw to help me walk or breathe or even think, so relax, dammit!


Principle #2: Copy the way young people walk

This is my second key principle for walking. When out walking, I keep an eye out for young people who seem to walk easily and gracefully, and sometimes I consider, how’s that different? What have they got that I don’t have, apart from youth? Maybe I could borrow some of their ease and grace.

Body posture declares a state of mind to others. It also instructs you how to feel. Just as deliberate smiling can lift your mood and make you feel like smiling, so too walking in a youthful way can make you walk youthfully as a habit, which in turn will make you feel more youthful. It’s a benign brain loop.

PS This blog post jumped out of order. No idea why. I apologise: I haven't mastered Squarespace or this template yet by a long chalk.  Somewhere else, you will find nine tips for walking young, safe and happy.


Image from Archy Somerville: and other stories (1856) by H.C. Peck and Theo. Bliss. Public domain via Internet Archive Book Images.