Blog

Introducing The Wonder Pause!

Are you the person who rushes and hurries from place to place? Do you get to the end of your day and wonder what just happened? Do you fail to “stop and smell the roses?”

The most critical step of the Alexander Technique is to stop. Stopping, waiting, and letting go of unnecessary tension is what FM Alexander called inhibition.

Inhibition is a skill that is honed over time. When you inhibit you calm your system down. The chaos and rushing go away and life becomes more peaceful.

So stop, wait, pause and notice with wonder this beautiful world.

I made this video yesterday. After a long day of teaching, I went for a walk in the snowy woods. Here is my Wonder Pause.

 

How You Move Matters! You can learn how to move better with my Amazon bestselling book  Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence.  My book is illustrated with 40 videos that you access with your iPad or smartphone!


You can purchase it here. 

Teaching people how to move well is my passion. Sign up for posts that teach you how to be more comfortable in your body! Click here to sign up or use the form to the right of this post!

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Techniquea mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below and feel free to share this with your friends!

How To Change Your Life In One Step

Would you like to make a change in your life but worry that you do not have the strength or the courage to do so?

What if it isn’t about strength or courage? Maybe you just don’t know how.

Let’s take exercise as an example. Would you like to change your life by starting an exercise regimen? Do you want to commit to more exercise and movement in your day and yet you don’t know how?

Perhaps you don’t know where to start because the whole idea of exercising is intimidating.

I get it!

I have taught fitness and exercise for over 30 years so I have a lot of experience with the fitness industry.  Believe me when I say my first observation is IT CAN BE INTIMIDATING!!!!

How do you get past that intimidation?

May I suggest by just starting.

Starting is the key. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” said Chinese philosopher Laozi.

That one step can move you past the intimidation and onto a whole new way of living.

I always tell my students that they don’t have to do a one hundred and eighty-degree turn in order to change. Changing course ever so slightly puts you on another trajectory and that trajectory is the change.

That one step ushers in change.

I want to tell you this story about how a simple change had a profound effect on my horse Asherah.

Asherah is a combination of an Appaloosa and a Thoroughbred.

Asherah and her friend Mo one foggy morning.

Appaloosa’s are known to be opinionated, stubborn and often times infuriating.

Here’s a common Appaloosa joke “Why did Native People ride Appaloosa’s into war? Because they wanted to be good and mad when they got there.”

Thoroughbred’s are flighty and nervous.

So Asherah can be a handful of flighty, nervous and enraging all at the same time- but I love her.

So to deal with all of this anxiety Asherah does this horse thing called cribbing.

Cribbing is when a horse grips anything hard with her teeth and at the same time sucks air into her stomach. It is like biting your nails for humans and it releases an endorphin high except it can lead to all sorts of problems like colic.

Colic, abdominal distress, is the leading cause of death in domestic horses. A horse in colic puts fear into every horse owner. Horses cannot vomit so anything that causes intestinal distress can and often is lethal.

Asherah has cribbed so much over her lifetime that she has no front teeth. The endorphin high is so desirable that sometimes she would rather crib than eat. That sounds like an addiction to me. Asherah was addicted to cribbing and because of this, she was at a higher risk for colic.

Then this happened one cold rainy day just before Thanksgiving.

I got to the barn to feed the horses breakfast. My usual perky friendly mare was standing with her head towards the back wall of her stall.

Her stall was a mess and she was covered in shavings or horse bedding.

Often horses that are colicking roll in a frantic effort to get rid of the pain.

Clearly, she had been rolling and thrashing in her stall so this was a sure sign that Asherah was colicking.

I looked at my miserable friend and knew that there were several things that I needed to do.

Trying to control my panic I had to get her out of the stall. If she went down in the stall it would be very difficult to get her up and she might become trapped.

I put on her halter and slowly led her out of her stall and into the barnyard. Her head was low and her eyes were dull with no affect.

I placed my ear on her abdomen to listen for any gut activity and there was silence. Normally a healthy horse’s tummy sounds like a symphony but not today.

My next task was to walk Asherah and pay close attention that she didn’t lie down and roll. When a horse is in this condition if they roll sometimes they will twist their intestine and that can be a very serious situation or even fatal.

Asherah’s head was low and every few steps she would slow down and start to bend her knees a clear indication that she wanted to roll. I had to keep her moving so I grabbed a whip and gently coerced her to keep walking.

Round and round we went in the barnyard.

By this time the light drizzle had turned into a hard, cold New England rain. I pulled out my phone to call my vet but my phone screen got wet and so I couldn’t place the call. Damn cell phones!

My heart was in my throat as I wiped off the screen and tried again, and again and still nothing went through.

By this point, I am crying. Sorry folks I cannot claim grace under fire. In fact, I am shouting to the sky “Help! Help! Please, will someone help me!”

There was no one within earshot.

I knew that if I had this horse medicine called Banamine that I could at least ease her discomfort. Think Pepto Bismal with a muscle relaxant and a dose of painkillers. Unfortunately, I had recently given my only tube of Banamine to another horse friend and so I was out.

Note to self- never be without Banamine when you own a horse.

I looked at my phone again and right under the vet’s number was the number of a fellow horse owner who lived up the road. I pressed her number and the call went through!

Within five minutes Missy was standing in my barnyard Banamine in her hand, a big smile on her face and an offer to grab a blanket to cover my sopping wet horse.

We gave Asherah the medicine and she was immediately better- not out of the woods but not experiencing such pain.

I called my amazing vet Dr. Becky and her always helpful and cheerful assistant Melanie.

After a thorough vet check, Dr. Becky determined that Asherah was colicking because she had ulcers.

For the next few weeks, I gave her the human antacid Zantac- I ground it up and put it in her food. Lots and lots of Zantac.

The proud Asherah in her stall.

And I changed her feed from grain to fodder.

For three years now she has been off of grain and she has been great!

I made this simple change from grain to fodder and not only has she had no belly pain or colic but she has also stopped cribbing!

Turns out the sugar in the grain was causing her great distress to the point that she cribbed incessantly trying to relieve the pain.

When I tell this story to horse people they are astonished.

A small simple change can change your life.

You don’t have to do a 180-degree turn. You just have to move the dial.

Go for a walk. Take the stairs. Walk to your mailbox. Don’t use the remote control for your TV. Run 10 steps during your walk. Wear bigger sized shoes with a pliable sole.

Simple changes. It worked for Asherah and it will work for you!

How You Move Matters! You can learn how to move better with my Amazon bestselling book  Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence.  My book is illustrated with 40 videos that you access with your iPad or smartphone!


You can purchase it here. 

Teaching people how to move well is my passion. Sign up for posts that teach you how to be more comfortable in your body! Click here to sign up or use the form to the right of this post!

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Techniquea mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below and feel free to share this with your friends!

Rats and Cats and You!

My Barn Rat

Something happened at my barn last summer that I have been desperately trying to be philosophical about. It’s what I do. I always try to find the meaning in an event.

I’m always asking myself,  what can I learn from this?

This is hard for me to write about. But, here goes. (If you are squeamish you may not want to read this post)

Last July on a bright sunny summer’s day I walked into my barn to feed my horses.

I opened my mare Asherah’s stall door and slid in her shallow dish of food. She snickered and greeted me with her lovely horse sounds.

When I returned to give her some hay I was SHOCKED to find a very large rat sitting in her food dish eating her breakfast alongside her!

I don’t know if I can express how upset I was. I screamed, slammed her door shut and ran out of the barn.

I think I did some dance in the barnyard like jumping up and down and wailing with clenched fists.

I felt revulsion towards the rat but I also felt betrayed by my horse, as crazy as that might sound. How could she share her breakfast with a rat? Plus, she looked so serene with the rat’s company. Obviously, the horse had been two-timing me with this very well fed rat for some time.

And what about my cats? I can’t describe the depth of my disappointment towards my two barn cats.

Really, cats? What do I feed you for?

(In their defense this  was a very large rat – about two-thirds the size of my cats – so I really couldn’t blame them for not going after it.)

Why did I have such a strong reaction to this rat?

I’ve had plenty of mice and voles in my barn. I have even had a rabid raccoon. We have lots of wildlife on the farm- why did this rat put me over the edge?

Why did I have such a primal reaction to this rodent?

When I posed this question to my friend Cathy she laughed and said that she had just had a similar discussion with a mutual friend who saw a mouse in her house and she jumped up on her counter and squealed EEK!

I did some online research into rat symbolism and I learned that most cultures see the rat as a  symbol portending good fortune. The Chinese zodiac calendar starts off with the rat, which guarantees good fortune in business. The native American shamanic traditions look on the rat as security and survival.  As an animal spirit guide or totem, the rat represents foresight and cunning.

For me? The rat represented a huge problem and all I could think about was that old saying:  “You never have a mouse. You always have mice!” I didn’t have a rat:  I had rats – plural. This thought brought about only more panic and revulsion.

But I had to go back in the barn and finish feeding the other ponies.

The rat had scampered away for now. It must have jumped down the rat hole.

So I made a lot of noise and very reluctantly went back into the barn and finished my chores.

I filled up the water buckets and hauled them down to the paddocks.  I pulled the leaves of hay apart and carried them down as well. I put halters on the horses and lead them down to their grassy fields.  All the while I was asking myself why my reaction was so strong?

Remember, I am always searching for the lesson

I came to think that my rat represented that situation, thing or person that you absolutely cannot abide.

The stone in your shoe if you will.

For me, the rat represented Chaos. Any barn owner knows that you cannot tolerate rats because they will multiply, take over your barn, and eventually spread disease.

Left unchecked, rats will overtake you and I knew that at a very deep and primal level.

So the rat had to go. 

But how?

My daughter Eliza was home for the weekend and she came over. She had been a wrangler on a ranch in Wyoming for a while and was not fazed by rats. When she went into Asherah’s stall not only was the big rat there but also all of her five babies!  Momma Rat was teaching her babies how to enjoy horse food.

Like I said: they will overwhelm you if they get the chance.   

We left the barn for a bit so we could plot our next move.

When we returned with rat poison, we couldn’t believe our eyes.

Greyson the Great Barn Cat

Sitting in the middle of the barnyard between two very smug cats was Momma Rat. A dead momma rat.

It was a nasty deed but it had to be done. 

I have never seen two prouder cats in my life. I was proud of them.

Boo The Brave Barn Cat

When I thought back over the week I realized that the two cats had spent a lot of time crouched in Asherah’s stall. In hindsight, I realized they were probably stalking the rat.

We all have rats in our lives…the things that you shouldn’t bear. The person who is toxic who you must no longer tolerate. The habit that is not constructive. Maybe it’s a soul-crushing job? Maybe it’s that closet in a bedroom jam packed with stuff. Perhaps it is being a couch potato and not going for a daily walk?

What is your rat? We all have them.

It’s amazing how the toxic energy still lingers. 7 months later I still walk in the barn with my eye out for a rat. Luckily it has only been me and my cats and ponies.

How You Move Matters! You can learn how to move better with my Amazon bestselling book  Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence.  My book is illustrated with 40 videos that you access with your iPad or smartphone!


You can purchase it here. 

Teaching people how to move well is my passion. Sign up for posts that teach you how to be more comfortable in your body! Click here to sign up or use the form to the right of this post!

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Techniquea mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below and feel free to share this with your friends!

 

About Changing Your Habits

If you are like me, you resist change.   

So do my ponies, Mo and Pip.  

Mo and Pip happy with their hay!

This is what happened to me over the weekend.

One morning I decided not to put the ponies’ breakfast hay near their gate, where I normally leave it.  Instead, I put it closer to the fence that runs between their paddock and my mare, Asherah.

Asherah has been feeling a little needy these cold winter days and I thought that she would appreciate the ponies’ company.

But I didn’t expect this.

When I went to bring the ponies in for the night, they were not standing near the gate where they normally wait when it is time to come in. They were standing where I had left their breakfast hay.

When I clipped on their lead ropes to take them toward the gate, they refused to budge and even tried to go straight through the fence.  It finally dawned on me that they were associating the location of their breakfast hay with the gate and the way out of the pasture.

What happened next floored me.

When I was finally able to lead them to the gate, Pip started bucking and ran through the open gate, dragging me behind him. Mo got in on the action and suddenly 500 pounds of angry miniature horses were dragging me up to the barn. They were furious that I had changed their routine.

This episode reminded me of Spencer Johnson’s book Who Moved My Cheese? but in this case, it was Who Moved My Hay?

It got me thinking about habit and change.

Why do we resist change so much?

Change is hard and it is scary.

When we change, we go from the known to the unknown.

We creatures, horses as well as humans, like to know where we are and what we are about.

We don’t like to swim in unchartered waters. It scares us. It unsettles us and it makes us feel not like ourselves.

This is where the power of habit comes in.

Your habits are who you are. I’m not only talking about habits such as brushing your teeth or nodding your head when you speak. I’m talking about a much broader interpretation of habit.

Habit covers a very wide range of behavior, including things like your tempo. For instance, do you rush or do you saunter when you move? Do you have the habit of taking a long stride when you walk or a shorter stride? Perhaps you have the habit of speaking very fast and loud?  Habit is pretty much everything about you, but it is often almost impossible to see how large a role it plays in your life.

The amazing thing is that once you recognize a habit with attention and thought, you can stop the old habit and decide to proceed in a different way.

This process of managing change is a cornerstone of the Alexander Technique.

Developed by FM Alexander, the Alexander Technique is a mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move, think, and “be” better. You can learn more about the Alexander Technique here and here.

FM Alexander said, “ Change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life.”

This little exercise illustrates a lot about habit and change.

Where you are now, lace your fingers like you would if you were going to pray or clasp your hands. Unlace them and then lace them again the exact same way.

Now re-lace them but move your fingers one finger over.

Your fingers are still laced but in a different way.

How does this feel?

For most, it will feel strange and different and maybe even wrong.

But look at your clasped hands or laced fingers.  They aren’t “wrong,” they are just different.

You would probably never lace your fingers the second way because the first way is your habit and we almost always default to our habit.

Your habit felt right.

Any other way felt wrong.

We like to feel right.

What this means is that we do the same thing over and over again because it feels “right” without ever stopping to ask ourselves if it is right.

So back to Mo and Pip and the Who Moved My Hay episode.

What felt right to them was to the habit of eating their hay by the gate. What was out of their habit and what felt wrong and what ultimately made them very angry and upset was to eat their hay away from the gate. They were so habituated that they got confused and they mistook the fence for the gate.

Their reaction to the moved hay reminded me of the old saying ( attributed to Alexander Graham Bell) “When one door closes another door opens.” 

But did you know that there is more to that quote? 

The whole quote says “When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

Our habits keep us looking “long and regretfully” at the closed door. We are so habituated to our past experiences that we are blind to new opportunities.

One ubiquitous habit is clenching or holding ourselves when we sit, stand or move.

Most of us use way too much muscular tension to get through the day. We may clench our jaw, hold our stomach in, and/ or brace our knees. Holding and bracing ourselves only makes our movement more difficult and can lead to pain and stiffness.

To change a habit you must first notice the habit. You must make it a priority to be aware of what you are doing and how you are doing it.

So, what are the habits that are preventing you from embracing change? Can you identify them? What if you were to ask yourself to stop and let go of the tension or intention around that habit? What happens next? Do you want to do something else? Do you want to choose something new?  

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How You Move Matters! You can learn how to move better with my Amazon bestselling book  Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence.  My book is illustrated with 40 videos that you access with your iPad or smartphone!


You can purchase it here. 

Teaching people how to move well is my passion. Sign up for posts that teach you how to be more comfortable in your body! Click here to sign up or use the form to the right of this post!

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Techniquea mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below and feel free to share this with your friends!

5 Reasons Good Posture Is Important!  

 

What if I told you that improving your posture will improve your life?

If good posture isn’t important to you, it should be.

There are many reasons why your mother or teacher nagged you to sit up straight and it has nothing to do with looking good (although looking good could be a reason unto itself J)

Sitting, standing and moving well is incredibly important because doing these things incorrectly can result in discomfort, stiffness, and pain.

  • Sitting or standing with poor posture can impede healthy breathing. Slouching puts pressure on the ribs, lungs, diaphragm and the other muscles associated with breathing. Try this little experiment: where you are right now, slouch or slump, then take a breath. See how shallow your breathing is? When you slouch or slump you cannot breathe deeply and easily.
  • Slumping can cause pain. Poor posture bypasses your postural muscles and puts undue stress on your ancillary muscular system.  This causes pain.  To understand why let’s talk a little bit about anatomy. You have two types of muscles used to support and move your skeleton: postural muscles and phasic muscles. Your postural muscles include spinal muscles, some of your abdominal muscles, hip flexors, calf muscles, and so on. These muscles are designed to work all day long, maintaining your posture. Your phasic muscles are your biceps, trapezius, triceps, etc. They are designed to perform short sprints of work such as carrying the groceries or washing a window. When your posture is poor you rely less on your postural muscles and more on your phasic muscles to maintain your posture. The phasic muscles don’t like to work long hours. Remember, they only like to do short stints of work. That’s why when you carry a gallon of milk for 20 blocks and don’t change arms your arm aches! Poor posture shortens postural muscles and limits their mobility, and this affects strength and can also cause pain and stiffness. Good posture does the opposite and lengthens postural muscles. 
  •  Slouching impedes digestion. According to an article in the Harvard Health Letter, poor posture can lead to incontinence. “Slouching increases abdominal pressure, which puts pressure on the bladder. ” Poor posture can also lead to heartburn and slowed digestion, according to Dr. Kyle Staller. “Slouching puts pressure on the abdomen, which can force stomach acid in the wrong direction. And some evidence suggests that transit in the intestines slows down when you slouch.” It just makes sense that standing up taller makes digestion easier.
  • Better posture means better balance. Think about it. Your head weighs anywhere from 10-15 pounds. Essentially you have a bowling ball sitting on the top of your spine. If your head isn’t beautifully poised on top of the spine then you will be off balance.  Your body will contort itself in every conceivable way to maintain balance so that your head doesn’t hit the ground. 

  •  Better posture translates into dynamic movement. When you have poor posture, your body has to work overtime to maintain balance. This causes excessive muscular tension throughout the body. Tense muscles don’t move easily. It is that simple. Try this. Tense your toes either by lifting them up or scrunching them. Now try to walk. What happens? You can’t walk freely or easily. Or try this. Clench your jaw. Now turn your head. Same thing! Right? You cannot move your head as easily. This is a basic tenet of the Alexander Technique: letting go of unnecessary muscular tension frees up your movement and makes moving easier. Moving more easily makes your movement more dynamic and coordinated.

So why not make this year the year to improve the way that you sit, stand, walk, and even run? Your health depends on it. 

Teaching people how to move well is my passion. Sign up for posts that teach you how to be more comfortable in your body! Click here to sign up or use the form to the right of this post!

How You Move Matters! You can learn how to move better with my Amazon bestselling book  Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence.  My book is illustrated with 40 videos that you access with your iPad or smartphone!


 You can purchase it here. 

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Techniquea mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below and feel free to share this with your friends!

You can learn more about the Alexander Technique here.

Master Walking, Master Running!

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to become a certified

Art of Running instructor!

About 10 years ago Malcolm Balk wrote the Master the Art of Running and thereafter the Master the Art of Working Out. (Click on the blue links to see his books on Amazon.)

Since then he has created a course to teach Alexander Technique teachers how to work with runners and walkers.

I took it and was amazed!

How could such seemingly simple movements transform my running?

Plus these moves also transformed my walking!!!

I cannot wait to teach you more about Malcolm’s approach.

Click on the video below. Malcolm teaches you 3 cool movements that will improve the way your legs and feet track while you walk and/or run.

Most of us stand, walk and run with our feet way too close together.

Many of you have heard me say over time that you should be more like the Eiffel Tower and less like The Empire State Building!!!

How your legs and feet relate to each other is called tracking.

These three simple movements will improve your tracking and trick your brain into wanting to stand walk and run with improved balance.

WOW! Such a simple way to get away from old habits. Try these several times then let me know how they work for you!!

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this!

How You Move Matters! You can learn how to move better with my Amazon bestselling book  Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence.  My book is illustrated with 40 videos that you access with your iPad or smartphone!


 You can purchase it here. 

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Techniquea mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below and feel free to share this with your friends!

You can learn more about the Alexander Technique here.

You can learn more about Malcolm Balk and The Art of Running here 

How You Move Matters!

I want to show you a really cool video of pedestrians in New York City which was taken in the early part of the last century.

Watch the first video below.

Look how well these people walk!

See how upright they are.

Notice how their heads relate to their spines.

Check out how easily they walk.

Can you see how well they move through space?

Now check out below a recent video shot in NYC!

What do you notice?

The differences between the 2 videos are quite astonishing.

I’m sure that someone could write a thesis about the two.

The people in the first video just look calmer to me.

They look more self-contained and better organized.

Of course, this was taken before the 2 world wars, the flu epidemic of 1918, the phenomenal mechanization of the world with cars and TVs and telephones. Obviously, they had other monumental problems. For instance, Penicillin hadn’t been invented yet.

Can we see the influence of modernization in our posture and the way that we move?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this!

How You Move Matters! You can learn how to move better with my Amazon bestselling book  Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence.  My book is illustrated with 40 videos that you access with your iPad or smartphone!


 You can purchase it here. 

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Techniquea mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below and feel free to share this with your friends!

You can learn more about the Alexander Technique here.

 

Creating A Mindful Day With a Peaceful Morning

Would you like to be more mindful during your day?

How you start your day has a lot to do with how well your day goes.

Do you get up late every morning, swill down a cup of coffee and dash out the door or are you the person who gets up early and spends some time reflecting before the day?

I’m a firm believer in the latter. I wake up at 5:30 or so meditate, write, read, and then go feed my ponies.

Try it! Wake up an hour earlier than usual. At first, it may seem hard but once you have reset your internal clock it will become easier and you will relish this time of contemplation.

During this time you could start a meditation practice, do an Alexander Technique Lie Down, read something inspirational, write in a journal or spend some quiet time with yourself.

Perhaps this is the time you would like to go for a walk or a peaceful stroll. I wrote about strolling earlier. You can check out that article here.

This time you dedicate to yourself is self-care and guess what? Self-care is health care.

Not one person on this planet can take care of you as well as you can take care of yourself.

Now is the time to take care of yourself by building in time during the day when you can recharge and rest.

Creating an early morning practice of meditation and journaling, reading and reflection is a great way to start off the day.

I’ve created a little video or VLOG to spur you along! (No pun intended!) Click on the ponies below to see the video.

 

How do you start your day? Let me know how it goes for you- I love hearing from you!

How You Move Matters! You can learn how to move better with my Amazon bestselling bookAgility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence.  My book is illustrated with 40 videos that you access with your iPad or smartphone!


 You can purchase it here. 

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Technique, a mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below and feel free to share this with your friends!

If you would like more information about the Alexander Technique then click here.

How to Walk Better!

Do you want to walk better?

Of course, you do! There are few things in life as gratifying and mind clearing as a walk or a stroll.

But what if you have difficulty walking? If your back hurts or your knees creak it is hard to get outside and go for a walk.

I’m not talking about a power walk.

I’m not talking about getting out there for the singular intention of getting your heart rate up or losing some weight.

I’m talking about a take-your-time mindful stroll. A time when you clear your head, notice nature, pay attention to your thoughts, your breath, your movement and reconnect with what is important in your life.

In my last two blog posts, I talked about the importance of the stroll and I gave some instruction on how to improve your walking or strolling. I would like to continue those lessons in this blog post.

  • You can read my earlier posts here: for strolling.
  • And here for the first blog post with walking instructions.

I want to take a moment to talk about the importance of your whole body–particularly the importance of your head and your spine in walking.

I’m going to introduce you to some basic principles of the Alexander Technique.

If you are not familiar with the Alexander Technique it is a mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move and function more naturally. It has been around for over 125 years and was developed by Frederick M. Alexander. Alexander was an Australian actor who had chronic laryngitis. through hours of observation, he saw that the habitual way he breathed and held himself was creating the problem. He discovered that if he could stop these harmful habits his breathing and vocal projection improved.

You can learn more about the Alexander Technique by snooping through my website or here and here. 

In short, Alexander was causing his laryngitis and since he was causing the problem he could then–with careful attention to himself–undo the problem.

Alexander noticed that the way his head related to his spine determined how well he breathed, spoke, and moved.

The way that your head relates to your spine also effects how well you walk.

If you look at a very small child around the ages of 1-3 you will see that her head rests ever-so-effortlessly on top of her spine. Her back is straight. There is unity. Look at the photo below. See how her head is beautifully upright.

Now, look at her mom.

See how her head is very different. Her chin is jutting forward while the back of her head is tilting down.

I know the difference is subtle but it exists.

I go into this in more detail in my Amazon bestselling book Agility at Any Age: Discover the Secret to Balance, Mobility, and Confidence. You can learn more about my book here.

So before we start to think about walking we need to think about how our head relates to our spine.

Stand up and repeat the following Guided Standing Instructions to yourself.

  • Think of softening your tongue and jaw. In other words, don’t clench your jaw or scrunch up your tongue
  • Allow the spine to spring away from the pelvis towards the head. Allow the head to release forward and up, so that the nose may drop slightly. Thinking up and forward then look ahead with the intention of walking towards something in front of you.
  • Now take a step and then continue walking. Tell yourself to walk through the big toe. Allow your knees to release forward. What do you notice?

When you are walking well you should feel as if you are floating.

Your feet may feel as if they are rolling along the floor. You may feel light and buoyant and you should feel propelled forward.

Last month I wrote about the importance of the big toe. I cannot overstate this enough. It isn’t just about walking from heel to toe.

To recap: when you walk well the heel meets the ground towards the outside of the heel. Your body weight then rolls diagonally across the large arch of the foot to the ball of the foot and then to the big toe.

The big toe has 2 very important jobs.

  • It plays a big role in maintaining your balance
  • It helps propel you forward.

Thus a free and flexible big toe is imperative for good walking.

This means that flexible, pliant shoes are also imperative.

Once again I go into this in more detail here.

Next, add the arms.

When you walk well your arms should swing by your side. Arm swinging improves stability and reduces the amount of energy used while walking. And here is a little bit of trivia: when runners want to increase their speed they are told to move their arms faster not their legs! So swinging your arms is important when going out for a walk.

When your left foot comes forward your right arm should come forward and vice versa. This is called cross patterning. Most of us cross pattern. When children crawl they practice cross patterning by bringing the opposite leg forward with the opposing arm. The cross pattern movement creates a pathway between the left and right side of the brain. This is one reason why it is so important for children to crawl; they learn coordination through cross patterning.

Cognitive issues such as dyslexia have been linked to an inability to cross pattern well. It has been my experience working with seniors that many lose the ability to cross pattern or swing their arms in opposition to their legs and thus their co-ordination suffers. The good news is that you can encourage and relearn how to cross pattern. Let’s try it!

I call this next sequence Wait, Shift and Turn. Take a hard chair like a kitchen chair or dining room chair.  Sit on your sitz bones. To find your sitz bones place your hands palm side up and sit on them. Do you feel the hard bones pressing into your palms? These are your sitz bones and to sit with any ease you must be sitting on your sitz bones.

Now shift your left shoulder forward. Keep your head looking forward. Return to neutral, by that I mean come back to sitting over both sitz bones with your shoulders squared. Next, do the opposite. Shift your weight over your left sitz bone and while attending to your directions bring your right shoulder forward while keeping your head looking forward and return to neutral.

Do several of these Wait, Shift and Turn sequences. Notice that it is as if you are walking on your sitz bones. I always feel as if I am in the Broadway musical West Side Story singing “When You’re a Jet” when I do this! This simple sequence helps to restore latent cross patterning.

Now stand up and walk and notice how much easier it is to swing the opposite arm to the opposite leg. If cross patterning is difficult for you then commit yourself to practice this daily. Eventually, you will improve the swinging of your arms as well as your balance and coordination.

A common position seniors adopt that interferes with their walking is leaning forward from the waist or upper back. In order to counterbalance their weight being so far forward, they bend their elbows and hold them up and back behind themselves. Look at yourself in your mirror and see if this is you. Just by looking at this position you can see how your balance is compromised. People in this position are often told to “stand up straight” and so they haul themselves up through the torso and shove their shoulders back.  As we all know all too well this never works. Let’s approach this habit another way.

As always stop and wait and give yourself your Guided Standing Instructions and ask your self to lower your elbows towards your waist and allow the arms to come forward and down. While you do this ask yourself to allow the spine to spring up towards your head.

Has your breathing improved with this shift? Are you more upright? What is your head neck relationship like? The release of your arms by your side provides a nice bit of direction up through the spine.

Now take a walk and allow your arms to swing. Here is something else to think about. Think about where you are coming from not what you are going towards. Think about what you are leaving behind you as you walk. This thought will allow you to walk taller.

Because the forward stance has become habituated it is going to take a lot of attention and easy practice to re-organize yourself with your elbows forward and down and your spine lengthening up towards your skull.

 

 

Most of us have a dominant leg when we walk and stand.

Usually, it is the leg that we start off with. It is probably the leg that you always use when you start to climb stairs. Sometimes it will be the leg that you lean on. Because this leg is the first to be engaged it is also the leg that will be overly tense. A simple way for you to spread the workload is to count up to three as you walk. Each stride will take one count. In this way, you will alternate the burden of the starting leg.

We all need to walk and walk more. Our culture is far too sedentary. I am not saying anything new, but if you don’t walk you won’t be able to walk. I have a saying it goes like this “If you do it you can do it but if you don’t do it you can’t.” It may seem obvious but it never is. If you want to walk then you need to walk. If you have not been walking much, it is never too late to start walking more.

The human body is designed to move. We are sitting ourselves to death. We need to walk every single day. Use walking sticks and set realistic goals for your self. You may start by walking to your mailbox and back. Increase the distance in increments. Do not overextend yourself. Add a few minutes at a time. When you increase your distance wait a few days before increasing again.

Give your body time to develop strength and endurance. If you find yourself getting tired then lessen your walking time for a few days. Your body responds to new challenges by becoming stronger. This is what exercise is all about. Challenge builds strength. But the challenge has to be appropriate. A goal of 30 minutes of walking a day may seem daunting at first, but by gradually increasing your time, soon it will become a reality.

Walking on different surfaces will also add a new level of challenge. Think about it, most of the surfaces we walk on are hard and flat such as flooring in your home or the pavement in your driveway or sidewalk. But we humans are designed to walk on grass, rocks, sand, and dirt. These surfaces are rough and not uniformly even. In short, pavement does not challenge you. If you don’t live in a large city you can easily add some rough surfaces to your walking practice. So grab your walking sticks and head out onto some grass or gravel!

We have spent time talking about how to walk so now let’s talk about why we walk.

There are two things I want you to embrace. Walking is exercise and exercise is movement. Don’t sell walking short. This is my soapbox. There is a whole fitness industry that wants to make you believe that you need this piece of exercise equipment or you need to be subscribing to this form of exercise in order to be effective. The result is that a lot of people are really intimidated. If you have a body and are reasonably mobile you can move. Even if you are unsteady on your feet you can still explore movement sitting on your hard chair.

You have learned many new skills. You have learned how to organize yourself in a way so that movement is easier. In particular, walking is easier and is more efficient. Set aside time in your day to go for a walk and think about yourself in this new and improved way while walking. This is mindfulness. Constructively paying attention to yourself is the way in which you will improve the way you move and react. Wear thinly soled flexible shoes. Stay away from heavily padded sneakers. Increase your walking in increments of a few minutes and space out the increments every few days. Use walking sticks to help with balance. Walk on uneven surfaces to challenge and improve balance and mobility. Count to three while walking so as to ensure an even and consistent gait. Make walking a daily activity.

My name is Mary Derbyshire. I am a fitness and movement coach. My methodology is the Alexander Technique, a mindfulness practice that teaches you how to move better. When you move better you feel better and when you feel better your whole life improves! Let me know what you think or ask a question! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to post in the comments section below and feel free to share this with your friends!