Erika Shershun, MA, MFT
Walk This Way
Updated: Jan 18
The focus of this blog is not walking as the title suggests, the actual focus of this month's blog is empowerment. Before we talk about empowerment it's important to explore how you are supporting yourself, beginning with bringing awareness to your walk. Bringing awareness to your walk, along with your breath, can have transformative value, potentially shifting the way you engage with the world.
The following exercise was inspired by Paul Linden, PhD from the Columbus Center for Movement Studies, and by Anne Marie Chiasson, MD, the author of Energy Healing.
To begin this practice I ask that you stand up and walk around the space you're in. As you walk take note of how your belly feels. Do you tense or suck in your gut? If so notice, without judgment, how this affects your breathing.
As you continue walking tighten your belly and pelvic region, gripping your core muscles. How does this affect your movement? Pay close attention to how your legs, hips, lower back, and your breathing are impacted.
Next, stand in place and alternate tightening your abdomen then relaxing it. When you relax your belly soften it and let it extend out.
Now relax your abdomen without doing a preliminary tightening. As you soften your belly consciously allow your pelvic area to relax. Notice if there was tension to release even when you had not intentionally tensed your belly. How does it feel to let your abdomen relax fully? Often people realize from this exercise that they had been unconsciously holding their belly and pelvic floor tight, and that they do so most of the time.
Many people in our culture tend to suck in their abdomens. Some feel shame or embarrassment in relation to the appearance of their bellies and suck them in to try to make them look smaller. We've been taught that it looks trim and attractive to keep our bellies tense, yet this results in physical and emotional rigidity and restriction. This feeling may be so familiar that you don't even notice it! In addition, our abdomen is a very vulnerable area of our body, with no bones to shield and protect the underlying organs. If you're an abuse survivor tensing your belly may feel like protection, or may be an attempt to help you resist uncomfortable feelings and sensations altogether.
Think about when you would naturally suck in your gut? Tensing and sucking in the abdomen is part of the fight-or-flight response. Why should we all be encouraged to walk around sucking in our abdomens when it creates a permanent fear/startle pattern? The muscles of the abdomen and pelvic floor form the core of the body, the center of movement and balance. To hold tension in these areas makes it impossible to ground, relax, or to move freely and comfortably.
Walk around once again with your abdomen soft and relaxed. Try to relax your entire body along with your abdomen and pelvic region. Notice how this feels, do you experience greater ease, fluidity, and grounding in your walk? This is how walking should feel.
Now that you've learned to free up your core muscles as you walk with a relaxed abdomen and pelvic region, we can practice transitioning your breathing sequence from one that is very likely in a shock pattern to one of ease and empowerment.
During the process of breathing, the diaphragm pulls down and air is sucked into the lungs, then as the diaphragm relaxes and moves back up the air is expelled. The heart is along for the ride, nestled between the lungs and resting on top of the diaphragm, with a slight downward movement on the inhalation and an upward movement accompanying the exhalation. When the diaphragm pushes down, everything in the abdomen region is displaced outward, primarily to the front (this is why we worked with relaxing the belly), but also to the sides and back. Infants naturally breath this way up until six to nine months, and people of all ages often shift to an abdominal breath once they fall asleep fully relaxed, but this is not how most adults in our culture breathe when they are going about their day.
So back to the exercise; standing, place one or both hands on your abdomen a little below your belly button. Do you suck in your belly or let it expand as you inhale? Now place one hand on your low back and one on your chest and notice if there's any movement in these areas?
Again, place your hands on your abdomen. Visualize breathing into your hands, letting the air fall gently down into your belly. Your lower abdomen will inflate with your inhalation and deflate with your exhalation. It may help to visualize a balloon filling with air on the inhalation. Keep your focus on your abdomen for a minimum of 10 to 15 breaths to find your rhythm and pace.
Try walking around one last time as you breath from your belly, don't forget to relax the pelvic floor. Take note of how this feels, and what may have shifted from your initial walk. Is your movement more relaxed, graceful, centered, or grounded? If you're used to sucking it in, breathing in this more relaxed manner may feel strange, you may even feel uncomfortable breathing comfortably until you get used to it. You can practice the abdominal breath seated or lying on your back, just remember to keep your belly the focal point of the breath.
We are much stronger and more resilient when we're relaxed and aware than when we're tense and unaware; relaxation is the foundation for empowerment. If you practice this breath exercise often enough your body will begin to shift into it naturally when your nervous system and energy body need to increase relaxation or decrease the fight-or-flight response. Being mindful of your breath also brings you into the present moment, where you can make a choice not to be swept along, instead becoming witness and co-creator of your life.