Walking–Your Pelvis Oscillates In 3 Dimensions

The free movement of your pelvis is vital to the ease and fluidity of your walk, and once your pelvis is fully involved, walking will contribute to the health and longevity of your skeletal and muscular structures, as well as your cardio-vascular fitness. The various rotations it performs correspond to the functions of both the engine and the suspension system of a car, enabling you to access greater speed while simultaneously minimising the jarring effect of your impact with the ground on the joints of your hips, spine and neck, whilst maintaining the health and the efficient functioning of your knees, ankles and feet. Although it may seem paradoxical, a well-organised walking gait is protecting your fleshier parts from impact without diminishing the benefits of impact on your bony structures, thus protecting you against the deterioration of bone strength in old age.

In walking the pelvis performs a complex gyration, oscillating around three axes, near simultaneously.  These are the same axes that a boat or a plane can rotate in – here is a nice visualisation of the three directions in which a plane can swivel! Picture three imaginary lines intersecting in the middle of your pelvis, the first is vertical, the second horizontal from front to back, and the third horizontal from side to side.  In a fully realised walk all of these rotations are present and in balance (but not necessarily equal in range of motion), however most of us privilege one or two elements and unconsciously inhibit the other/s – for many reasons, sometimes physical, sometimes psychological, often both.

This is my favourite of the online representations, as it includes other definitions I might have to borrow at some point–for our pelvic movements in walking we are most interested in pitch, roll, and yaw…

Discover the differences between these distinct pelvic rotations for yourself and you will be able to identify movements you have been unconsciously avoiding.

Experiment with them in isolation and you will begin to experience their benefits.

Reintroduce them your own gait and your daily walking will become actively therapeutic.

Glide – discovering ‘yaw’; oscillating around the vertical axis

This is the action in walking that takes us most directly forward and it is a significant element of striding, and a vital feature of the distinct gait of the catwalk model. One way to explore this rotation is to walk as if along a very straight line, placing each foot directly in line with the other, as far forward as you can comfortably manage. Elegant and efficient, this action encourages the spine to twist, and this in turn is useful for stimulating the counter-weighting swinging action of your arms. Pay attention to ease of your stride with each leg–does one foot go a little further forward than the other? On pavements you can play with extending and equalising your stride by matching your walk to specific paving stone widths. If you have enough space you can extend your stride until you are leaping forward–and leaping is exactly the sort of fun that we adults are often missing out on. I will keep looking for good examples on YouTube but till then here is a belly dancing demonstration for you to enjoy–skilled belly dancers are a great source of videos demonstrating isolating pelvic movement skills.

Here she twists beautifully, but not as part of an integrated walking action. While searching for examples for this post I noticed that this is a central element of advanced balancing skills–such as walking along the top of a wall, or indeed something really challenging such as a tightrope. If you practise walking along a straight line you will notice that the counterweighting action of your arms is slower than walking but perhaps easier to observe.

This spinal motion is also fundamental to running, and some evolutionary biologists posit that our relatively narrow human waist is one of the structural features that reveals our early development into one of the running specialists of the animal kingdom.

Here is a “running” gag from The Armstrong And Miller show, which shows the natural cross crawl pattern in running and walking, and that it is fundamental to moving at speed:

Watching this again for this new edit I can see very clearly how the pelvises of the younger performers twist more freely than those of the adults. If you look closely at Alexander Armstrong in the first segment you can see that his organisation is compensating for limited movement in his pelvis by the swinging movement of his head and neck.

There is nothing overtly sexy about this action so we British are quite at ease with it–it does tend to diminish with age, but may be the last rotational dimension to go. It is interesting that one of the signs of ageing is slow walking, and I am sure the importance of these different aspects of our movement are still emerging as biology embraces more systemic models.

Wiggle – discovering ‘roll’; oscillating around the front-to-back axis

In this action we lift and lower each side of the pelvis in turn so that one side of your waist shortens as the other lengthens. This movement of the pelvis is produced by alternately “side-bending” (lateral flexion) in your torso. It is a very therapeutic action for the spine, particularly if you pay attention to equalising your range of motion left and right (for example, exaggerating this action in my own walk gave me a reliable tool for both relieving sciatic pain and preventing oncoming attacks).

Exaggerate this movement in your walk and compare it to your usual gait–it will give you a shorter stride and a pronounced Marilyn Monroe-style wiggle. This element of walking is more obvious and more pronounced the wider your hips are, and is therefore naturally associated with femininity.  It is so strongly linked to sexual provocation in our culture that most women modify their natural hip sway, and most men eliminate it from their walk altogether (not necessarily consciously) in order to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention. This is not necessarily true of all cultures: for example, consider Hawaii and Brazil–both these countries have dance cultures that develop and encourage hip mobility in both sexes. It is less easily observed in men, and narrow-hipped women, but is just as important for the health and mobility of all spines, and is directly connected to our ability to balance on one foot and thus an important element of agility and good coordination. I strongly encourage you to find your natural wiggle motion and fully incorporate it into your gait.

“Wiggling” is fundamental to belly dancing – enjoy!

Wiggle gives your walk some bounce, but most important for the spring in your step is…

Tilt* – discovering ‘pitch’; oscillating around the right-to-left axis

This more subtle action is less easy to isolate than the other two. It is also less easy to find a good example of a walk that privileges this action over the other two, though it definitely has an element of urban cool, giving the gait a youthful bounce. This example is of a belly dancer teaching the “camel walk“–the movement is exaggerated in a dance-y way, but very clear, and charmingly demonstrated.

An important element of balancing on one leg to kick is dropping your “tail” by lengthening your lumbar curve (flexing)–which will hopefully be balanced by a subtle lengthening of your neck as well.

This action is present in our walk, but complicated by the need for one leg to be lowering as the other is lifting, thus it requires a sophisticated differentiation in your pelvis, and consequently the range of this rocking motion is small. To exaggerate this movement, walk slowly, and “wag your tail” up and down as you travel, noting that each leg swings a little forward and that this action emphasises the way each foot rolls from heel to toe with each step. Loosen up and let yourself fully explore the bouncing quality of this gait.

*I have been referring to this movement as “wagging” your tail for a while, but am shifting to “tilting the pelvis”, in line with Lorimer Moseley’s definition, in order to avoid confusion with the side-to-side tail wag most animals employ.

Try this out if you are still not sure what I mean: stand near a wall and place one hand on it at shoulder height for easy balance. Place the back of your other hand in the curve of your lumbar spine, then lift and lower one knee slowly, and as high as you are comfortably able, so that your foot lifts at least as high as the other knee (or as close as possible). Do this several times–can you feel-sense the changing shape of your lumbar curve?

Focussing on dropping your tail and lengthening the back of your neck slightly as you slowly and steadily lift each leg in turn to balance on the other is a good preparation for slow, controlled tai chi kicks–and a great way to improve poor neck and lower back posture and self use. Use this neck and lumbar lengthening action every time you go up and down the stairs to incorporate this pelvic tilt naturally into your daily activity.

There is a great example of walking with this lovely rocking motion of the pelvis towards the end of this lecture on pain science from the excellent Lorimer Moseley–you do have to scroll through to 42 minutes in–the whole talk is great though, and highly recommended for anyone dealing with chronic pain:

Lorimer Moseley demonstrating the pelvic “tilt” in walking–his research is very exciting for Feldenkrais teachers because it backs up so much of what we have been teaching for years.

Putting it all together…

Experiment with isolating each action, then combining them in pairs, and finally incorporating all three actions into your gait for a fully three-dimensional walk.

Return to some of your original self-observations from part 1; what has changed? What is easier for you to notice now? How light, free and fluid can you make your walk? Can you walk in slow motion, or make your feet completely silent? Is walking backwards easier to do now?

– by the way, as you can see I have been trawling the internet for good examples of these movements –a fascinating project! The tilt is the hardest to find clear examples of. The movement is so overtly sexual that the clearest examples I can find can only be described “inappropriate”. Here is a truly fine example of boys producing competing examples of the wiggle, the tilt and some great freeform combinations as well–it is an extended excerpt from a pop video, and, although it gets tedious quickly, it is amusing just long enough for you to get the idea…

You may have noticed that all my examples are of people dancing. Dancing often resembles playing with and exaggerating the movements of walking, perhaps in the same way that singing extends the possibilities of our speaking voice. I highly recommend dancing as a rejuvenating activity–do not wait for opportunities to come along, stick some music on at home and bounce around your kitchen–your hips and back are just some of the many parts of yourself that will love you for it.

Here is a lovely collaboration between dancer and drummer, to show us all what is possible with refined pelvic movement control:

…and I cannot resist finishing with this fabulous pair of African dancers in what I can only describe as a “battle of the buttocks”!

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