How to Enjoy Walking

Bruce Chatwin once famously remarked: "When people start talking of man's inhumanity to man it means they haven't actually walked far enough."

In the same book he pointed out that bushmen infants are carried over 4,500 miles (7,200km) before they begin to walk themselves.

So here are two things about walking more, a la Chatwin: first, we seem well able to walk as a species; second, walking can have soothing and even virtuous effects on us. In fact pilgrimage is a time-worn favourite of spiritual transformation: sending the wayward son on a multi-month walk to Compostela was a favourite medieval way to avert a misspent youth.

Let's split the difference: it's true that walking more helps you to feel better and feeling better certainly makes you easier to live with. If this page stops one person snapping at another every day, it will have done well.

Remembering How to Walk

We don't walk anything like as much as we would have 100 years ago. In that time many of us have developed some contorting habits around walking. Among these are vaguing outnarrowed attention (staring) and walking with our legs rather than on them. These exercises should help.

Exercise 1

How much do eyes affect balance? Try these experiments:

(i) Stand on both feet by a wall (not touching.) Notice how normal balance involves small amounts of sway and correction. If you can't feel it, an iPhone movie would demonstrate this well.

(ii) Now close your eyes. Notice how the amount of sway increases. Notice also that muscular effort has to increase as balance becomes less sure.

(iii) Repeat (i) but standing on one leg

(iv) Now close your eyes

Notice that in both cases eyes closed leads to a lot more sway. You may also notice more muscular tension in your legs and torso.

Eyes are important. Both vaguing out and staring make walking harder and less pleasant because they affect the quality of your balance.

Exercise 2: Soft, wide eyes

Your eyes can see to the sides and above too, as well as straight ahead. Relax the corners of your eyes and let the corners of the room into your vision.

Go for a walk. Let trees, people pass you on either side as you walk. Notice them.

Exercise 3: Be Led By Your Eyes

Stand still. Look at something, a tree, a person. Keep your eyes soft and wide, focussed but not staring. Allow what you're looking at to draw you towards it.

Can you feel it?

Good, let yourself be drawn into a walk.

This is much how walking used to happen when we were looking for food and danger all the time. How does it feel? If it's awkward, practise a few times over several days until you really allow an external pull to "walk" you.