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Why your walk might be the least healthy thing about you


walking

What’s the point of having bodywork done if you undo all of those stretching benefits on your walk back to the subway?

That’s the question longtime Shiatsu practitioner Shandoah Goldman began asking herself after hearing from clients that after treatments, their old aches and pains quickly came back. “People would walk out of a session and go right back to their old patterns of movement and alignment.” Many of which were strict, restrictive and just, well, wrong.

Of course, we walk every day. “If you’re spending an hour or more each day walking, you need to do it right,” she says. So Goldman set about teaching New Yorkers how to walk (after all, it is our primary form of transportation). In private sessions and group walking-and-alignment workshops in Prospect Park, she breaks down the process and starts to improve your form, just like you might find an instructor do in your barre or yoga class. So what could you learn from a walking boot camp?

shandoah

The learning process

Unlike other exercises that we tend to learn through trainers, instructors, and coaches, Goldman points out that we learn to walk when we’re too young to be great students. We also learn through mimicking poorly qualified teachers: our parents. As a result, we adopt bad, inefficient habits like locking our knees or clenching our jaws.

The biggest problems she finds among New Yorkers are holding and tucking, especially our pelvises and chins. So those yoga bandhas and Pilates contractions? They’re not welcome while you’re walking. While moving forward on foot, the goal is to let go and be looser, and her goal is to teach people to hold their bones in alignment so that their muscles don’t have to work quite so hard.

And Goldman isn’t one of those people who will tell you to get rid of your heavy Celine bag that totes everything from your laptop to your sneakers (hey, at least you switched to Frees), or ditch the stilettos for good. We shouldn’t make ourselves feel fragile—as in, “I can’t carry that bag” or “I can’t wear those shoes”—she maintains. Instead, she says the key to a healthy walk is that you can adapt it no matter what you’re carrying or wearing, so if you have to tote a heavy bag, just switch shoulders and pay attention to how you’re compensating for the extra weight. (Or, yes, get a backpack.) If you want to wear heels, you’ll have to recalibrate your step.

The good walk

In a recent private session, my main takeaway lesson was to loosen up. A lot.

A good walk, says Goldman, involves the pelvis in its natural swayback position, and the head held defiantly high. It means moving your hips in a figure of eight, so you’ll feel like your hip are sashaying side to side. And think of each step as beginning in the hip flexors.

“Walking with your head up is scary,” she concedes, especially in a city where everyone‘s goal is to avoid eye contact. But don’t worry, Goldman advises you to focus on the thing that’s furthest away in your field of vision, so you can maintain your cool New Yorker cred and walk correctly. 

Walking with Goldman was way more illuminating than I’d thought it could be. I’d assumed I knew how to walk—I’d gotten from point A to point B in my life just fine, thank you very much. Turns out, there’s room for improvement. Goldman asked me to focus on my legs not just as two body parts, but as smaller, interconnected muscles, hips, knees, ankles, and feet, and to be conscious of the fluid movements of each one. She told me to stop leading with my ten-pound head—another common type-A, hurried New Yorker mistake—and instead try to balance my head freely atop my spine.

Walking correctly did make me feel a little vulnerable. But if I stick with it, I’m optimistic that it might lessen my chronically achy neck and mysteriously out-of-joint hip. But it turns out, there’s more to it than that.

“I love this work for New Yorkers,” says Goldman, who sends her students home with MP3s of walking meditations they can use on their commutes. “It’s not a separate practice. You don’t have to make time to go to a class. You can do it while walking to the subway.” And what good New Yorker can resist a chance to multitask? —Ann Abel

For more information, visit carteblancheperformance.com, and for workshop tickets go here.

(Photos: Shandoah Goldman)