Walking Fast or Walking Well

I teach posture. My students learn to regain their primal posture through everyday movements. They learn to sit, stand, bend, lie down and lift in ways that are beneficial to their body and alleviate pain they may be having. They also learn to walk.

Walking is something that we have been doing since the age of two or less. So when they have to break down the various aspects of walking, become aware of the different muscles that need to be used, understand the parts of the gait, pay attention to how the foot lands etc., they are overwhelmed at all the mechanics that are involved.

One has to necessarily slow down to assimilate all the aspects of walking well. It requires one to become mindful of engaging the gluteus medius (most discover the existence of this muscle for the first time!), positioning the hips well with each step, landing softly without impact on the knees etc.  And almost always, I have a student ask me the question “How can I walk fast, if I have to walk paying attention to all these aspects, this will slow me down?”

I realized this obsession with pace is not only in our desire to get to some place fast, but also manifests itself in many ways all across life. In companies that I consult with, I see teams that are only focused on meeting the deadline, finishing a project quickly and moving on.  As a parent, I find myself saying, “finish your homework fast”, “eat your lunch quickly” etc. In the gym, I see men who are focused on finishing as many reps as possible for their bicep curl with little regard to what is happening to their neck or pelvis. The general pattern seems to be to focus on the end result and not the process involved or the impact on rest of the system. Priority is immediate gain versus long term benefit, efficiency versus effectiveness.

I am reminded of the Hare and the Tortoise story here, where the Hare lost the race despite being much faster. He took a break and the slow and steady Tortoise won. The standard narrative is that the Hare was too confident and the Tortoise was persevering. However, if you look at it from the efficiency versus the effectiveness lens, the Hare got tired after that burst of pace and it had to rest. He was focused on getting there “quickly”. The Tortoise on the other hand, was much more in-tune with his natural pace and was focused on completing the “total race” without being exhausted halfway.

We see this all the time in projects- when there is a higher focus on just meeting the deadline, the bugs come back to bite. With my own son, when I instruct him to do things faster, he makes mistakes and falters. And in the gym, men vanish for weeks in between, due to some injury or the other. Just like the Hare in haste.

To my students I always respond back saying “Walking well is more important than walking fast”. When we first learned to walk, we moved around because we enjoyed the experience of getting from here to there. I remind them that they are with me in the first place due to that chronic back pain or that niggling knee which hurts with every step. And we are trying to change the habits that have caused those pains. I get them to pause, experience and become aware of the muscles that work in a simple walk and how they are working a lot more of their body by walking well. Thus developing better muscle tone and burning more calories. So what if the FitBit records only 5 steps when they have actually walked over a 100?  We are sparing the joints and landing softly, increasing the life of our joints. That their aim should be to be able to walk well into their 80s without pain.

And after a few weeks, almost always, I have students report back to me saying that, though they are not sure if they are walking correctly, they are much more mindful when they walk. I know mindfulness will slowly lead to walking well. It is hard work.

When we are constantly bombarded with questions that ask us how quickly we are achieving our goals, how do we begin to shift our thinking? How do we begin to move towards doing things right, rather than doing them quickly? I think the key is to ask different questions.

Stop asking self and others questions like, “How many kilos have you lost and how long did you take? How many marathons have you run? What is your best time? How many marks did your child score? What is the size of your bicep etc”. Instead ask, “How many days did I go to the gym without injury? How well can I run without having a pain in any part of my body? How many hours did the child practice his violin in the week? How many meals did he have without me having to remind him to finish it? How many projects were delivered with no bugs reported in 6 months of deployment etc.” The key would be to change the language, shift the focus from the result to the process. Questions that guide one to look at the process and not just the end result, help think of the “how” and not just the “what”.

I look forward to the day when one of my students would surprise me by asking “how can I walk well for the next 40-50 years of my life without any concern?” that to me would be an indicator of the paradigm shift of looking at the quality of walk or the long term wellness and not the preoccupation with finishing something quickly. It is slowing down today only to be able to go faster tomorrow, for a long time.

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