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Gait and Us

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

Gait is the term used for how we move when walking. It is more than static 'posture'. And scientists know that you can analyse someone's gait and use it like a fingerprint to identify them. Some of the differences will come from specific characteristics like weight, length of bones, injuries. But honestly that could not explain how we can see someone we know well from a distance and from the corner of our eye and know - instantly - that it's them. No-one else moves quite like you, and you don't move quite like anyone else. It's unique.

So there must be a lot of variation beyond that of weight, age, bone length. How can that be so varied? Humans seem to have a great deal more variation than any other animal I've been looking at. And it takes us a very long time to learn to walk - walking is not automatic at all, it has to be learnt by trial and error and experimentation. Anyone who has watched babies slowly, slowly practice the stages - head control, finding their limbs, rolling, finding their knees, finding their arms, then getting onto all 4s before even starting the complexity of crawling - can see that humans put a lot of work into experimentation and experiencing alternatives before they even start to locomote. Compare that the to speed of a 4 legged animal managing to keeping up with its mother so soon after birth.

From crawling to the uniquely human next step of walking is quite fast, by comparison. But those first steps are very precarious as young humans learn the fine art of balancing a large, watery, bony mass with a heavy top weight on to two small and moving feet. It is very funny to watch babies try to handle the momentum of walking, they can get ahead or behind themselves and topple over. They have to work out how to be on one foot at a time as the whole body is propelled through space - that is a really extraordinary trick. Down the whole chain of mammal evolution we are the only bipedal animal. Homo Erectus - our first ancient, distant, upright predecessor - is first dated to two million years ago. That is a long time for evolution to experiment and develop the systems to be truly 'suited' to this strategy. While it is instinctive for us to walk, it would be better to say it is instinctive for us to experiment and find a way to walk. And through that experimentation we can find the beautiful way that our body can use our mass, shapes, coordination and timing to deal with the hard business of being upright while being pulled downwards by gravity. In fact, we have developed systems for using gravity as our organising principle, as our friend, not our enemy as it is so often seen.

There is not only one way to walk - heads can be held forward or back, arms can move easily or be held in too tight, one foot might not swing as easily as another. After our experimentation phase, are we satisfied with our gait and no longer try alternatives? Or do we start off well, but then loose some of the best patterns in the pressure of daily living. I suggest to you that sitting and watching people in a crowded place is a great way of seeing the sheer variety of ways that we manage to move on two legs. We walk so much in our lives, potentially thousands of steps a day, millions over a lifetime, and doing it well is a great deal different from doing it less well. A 'good' walk nourishes the body, and helps it work well. A 'less good' walk incurs costs on the body which show up over time.

With your Rolfer - working on your tissue and opening up movement patterns - there is a way to start experimenting again, and find out where things have not been used or have been stuck or lost. We can start to move again with a better 'strategy' and alternatives for different tasks, and things begin to improve overall. We are no longer passively reducing our alternatives, but enjoying the chance to expand them again. And we are dancing with gravity in a way which lifts and benefits us, rather than costs us in terms of comfort and ease.

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