Walking in Nature is one of our simplest physical unwinders. Our muscles and nervous systems are soothed immeasurably by something we have done as a species for so long. Walking is a forgotten, primeval unwinder.
When we stood up and became bipeds, we needed to bring in a lot more spirals to help keep a walking, talking, gregarious tower from falling over. Compared to a dog, we have a whole load more muscles that create rotation in our bodies. The rotator group love the rhythmic rocking of walking and can encourage our whole soft tissue system to soften, releasing stored patterns of tension that we all have.
The flexors, our muscles at the front of our body, are our most emotional muscles. The fight, flight and freeze part of our nervous systems can, and often does, create chronic shortening in these muscles in response to anything that appears scary, or is scary. So, we lose the ability to make a long and easy stride. We pull ourselves forward by our quadriceps – rushing and dragging become the locomotive adjectives. Our quads and heads lead. We have fatigue. Far from grace are we.
Walking in Nature can soften our flexors: the nervous system feels safe and our bodies can reset our heightened adrenalin reactions and a “fried” sympathetic nervous system, which is so common in our lives and lies at the bottom of many an illness.
Daily life can often involve periods of prolonged sitting, coupled with a slumped spine – long periods of inactivity and repetitive movements that sometimes we make over a whole lifetime.
Walking with a free pelvis, one that sashays and loops and rises and falls, moving in a three-dimensional figure-of-eight has to come from length in the front of the spine and hips. Our pelvic movement is too often stilted in some way through fear of sexuality and fear of expressing and revealing ourselves. We seek to control this central area by restricting its movement. No longer letting our hips swing in case they communicate with somebody. However, in the woods, we can begin to sashay again; only the trees are watching. We can start to feel trust again in our ball and socket joints, securing good, determined contact with the ground. Down through our femur and spreading our feet. We will be rewarded by a rebound effect with the earth itself assisting push-off, so that walking becomes relatively effortless. It is very hard to have this gravitational rebound experience on hard, super flat floors. We need the natural curvature and dimples of the uncovered earth.
These hard surfaces we walk on in shoes do no favours for our hunched and bunched feet. Soft shoes or barefoot walking allows the foot’s 22 delicate joints to open and do the foot’s job of being a spring. Lift begins right at the bottom and the important big toe joint does its push-off and activates a chain up into the all-powerful, often amnesic abductors, the inner thigh muscles. Using the understated power from these muscles can stop us overusing our quads.
If our pelvis can move freely and we go walking, our lower spinal muscles get this rocking and stretching, plus a rotating and a shortening; and they love this continuous change of shape. They need it. They are anti-gravity muscles, working all the time to hold us upright. It’s a hard job. They cannot handle the static, overloaded conditions they are so often asked to perform under. This is a very vital part of freedom from back pain. Regular walking in Nature can prevent, and be a big part of alleviating, lower back pain.
The cross lateral sway that walking gives us when we have a nice rhythm helps to relax the neck muscles, encouraging the head to stop hurrying ahead and coming back on top where it belongs. The shoulder muscles can shrug off the yoke of worries and burdens, letting it slide away. The breathing muscles can exhale and release a sigh at being home again in Nature, followed by an expanding of the heart and ribs as an inhalation comes in, and we relax more deeply, remembering we are Nature too.