Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Clinic For Funny Walks

"I walk funny.  I just walk... funny. I went to the doctor and he gave me muscle relaxers."

This was actually spoken in my office.

And again, recently:

"Some of my friends make fun of me and ask, 'Why do you walk so stiff?' I can't help it, that's just the way I walk!"

Well, you've come to the right place. My job is to fix those funny walks. But to understand this whole situation better, let's unpack those special gaits.

Question #1: Why do I walk funny?

It's muscle tension. A "good" walk is smooth and coordinated. The person looks graceful, relaxed, yet ready for sudden changes. All the joints in your body -- from the little bones in your feet up to the base of your skull -- should adapt to each step in a continuous slinky motion. That motion you see is the body doing two things: absorbing the shock of walking while spring-loading the next step.

(Did you know your body absorbs shock while walking? It's amazing. Ask someone with a steel rod in the spine how uncomfortable it feels to walk on a concrete floor.)

But with too much tension in your body, this slinky motion gets interrupted. Instead of diverting the shock of your heel strike with natural curvy motions, the body is stiff and jolts up and down. And instead of each step being propelled forward by the body's built-in springs (i.e. tendons), your legs have to use muscle strength to lift for each step. Sometimes, the torso lurches side to side, throwing the legs forward to walk. Sounds attractive, huh?

Question #2: Yeah, but why do I have these tensions?

Firstly, you're an individual person. Everyone processes stress differently.

Add life's challenges on top of these natural proclivities. Ideally, our bodies and minds process experiences -- like changing jobs, getting a divorce, having a car accident, moving house -- and we make sense of them and weave them with our past and futures. That's called integration. But if an experience is too large to digest, the body "chokes" on it and stores all the tension in one place in the body, throwing you off balance. The diaphragm, shoulders, neck, lower back... this might sound familiar to you.

Finally, society influences our posture and gait. We learn to move based on the people we see during our childhoods. What do the people around you walk like? Is the body accepted or shamed in your culture? Are people physically expressive? How much actual space did you have growing up?

Question #3: How are you going to fix my funny walk?

I'm a Rolfer. My job is to fix your walk -- and improve your posture, range of motion, and overall physiological function -- by strategically releasing muscle groups and joints in a way that your body can understand.

It feels like a deep-tissue massage, but it's much more. It's re-educating your neuromuscular system. Similar to unfolding a box, Rolfing unfolds your bad posture step by step, allowing the your muscles and nervous system to build new connections so that better posture, and a more graceful walk, can emerge.

Question #4: How come I can't fix my funny walk by myself?

You can probably achieve a lot on your own by stretching, exercising, doing yoga, or training yourself using a mirror. But at a certain point, you will reach a limit. "I just can't think about my posture 24/7, so eventually I slump again." I've heard that thousands of times.

The goal of Rolfing is to allow your natural good posture come through. That means that good posture is a state of relaxation and release, not more mental work on top of your already tense body. With Rolfing, you think about your posture less, not more.

Posture is holistic, it's physical and emotional. Posture is a result of emotional experience, pasts, beliefs, and culture. In other words, posture is always a result of our relationship to something, be it our families, societies, or even gravity. Therefore, posture can only be changed in relationship to something dynamic helping from the outside, not just a foam roller. When your muscles, tendons, and joints have to respond to deep touch from the outside, they re-calibrate what is considered "balanced." This work requires giving time, space, and careful attention, which regular massage -- and muscle relaxers -- don't do.

Take a look at these pictures of an actual client. You can imagine that he also walked better after his 10 Rolfing sessions:

Please drop me a note if you have any more questions about Rolfing! My office is in downtown San Francisco near Montgomery BART Station.