According to the CDC over 18,000 people die a year from fall related injuries; over 700,000 are hospitalized from falls producing head injury and hip fracture. Those are scary statistics particularly for those of us who enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking across mountainous terrain. Balance is the primary feature of a safe arrival and this is achieved through body alignment, a low center of gravity, diaphragmatic breathing and bending knees.
A low center of gravity and noticeably bent knees are central to all athletic training. When body weight is centered in the pelvis instead of the high chest, the feet become simultaneously heavy and light. One is sure footed and sensitive to holes in the terrain or obstacles in the path.
When speaking of “bent knees” I don’t mean knees bent like Groucho Marx. The knee should give just a little into a slight bend as one steps onto the foot. Also – when standing, one’s knees should be slightly bent instead of locked straight. Observe a side view of yourself in a mirror, focusing on the lower back. With straight knees you will have a sway back which corrects itself soon as the knees are bent slightly.
An easy way to test balance is to stand near a stable table barefooted and with eyes closed. Lift a foot at least 8 inches off the surface and see how long you can maintain balance. Do it with both feet, one at a time of course, making sure there is something nearby to grab hold of in case you teeter about.
When walking listen to the sound of the feet hitting the surface. A thud sound indicates the entire foot is hitting at once instead of rolling through heel – ball – toe. Observe yourself walking toward a mirror. Each side of your body should be a mirror image of the other side. One side should not be higher or lower than the other. The head should rest in a straight line with the pelvis; not a little in front of the pelvis.The arms swing an equal amount and in similar fashion. Do you waddle side to side kind of like a duck? This problem is particularly noticeable in the overweight group. Imagine a rope attached to the pelvis, pulling slowly forward as you roll through heel, ball, toe.
Physical therapists agree that once you fall it is much easier to fall again. It’s as though a pathway is made to repeat behavior; kinda strange but noted in most studies on the subject. So at least be sure to do the barefoot balancing test mentioned above and determine your physical balance. It may be something you need to work on. It could save you life. Specific exercises are given in earlier post: “How Are You Walking?”
If you are entrenched in pogo-stick walking it can be somewhat difficult to embrace a pelvic centered walk. You have been encouraging a high resting point for your chi (body’s vital energy), making one very top heavy. Maintaining a relaxed and balanced walking style depends on hooking into the pelvic region which initially can be unsettling because it’s the total opposite feeling of what you are used to and we strongly resist change.
Hara, The Vital Center of Man by Karlfried Von Durckheim was the only required reading for classes I taught at NYU. It goes into scholarly detail regarding the philosophy and practice of living from the Hara, which is the point a few inches below the navel. Read it as a spiritual and you will have a good feeling for the experience of being centered in this area of the body. All of this information is greatly expanded in my book Napoleon’s Bathtub.