Should Walking Take Mental Effort?

Categories: Blog Jun 07, 2021

Recently, I released a BodCast with Vince Vaccaro about ChiRunning. It was a great conversation, for me at least, about the joys of running and walking. It’s hard to listen to that conversation and not be swept away by Vince’s joy and enthusiasm for running. 


Anyway, a friend of mine listened to the episode and asked whether or not I thought walking and running should take cognitive effort. I thought it was a great question - it made me think.  So, I thought I would share my thoughts about this thought provoking question here:  


I do think walking and running should be unconscious movements. Should be. And, for most people they are. But most don’t optimally walk or run. Many probably shouldn’t run given the current state their body is in. Optimal, beautiful movement comes from a solid reflexive foundation and a safe, healthy, nervous system. But many of us aren’t walking around in a safe, healthy nervous system that lends itself to a vibrant reflexive foundation of movement. 


This can all be restored through movement, but sometimes it takes a cognitive approach to begin this restoration - for some, not all. Some people may need a more cognitive approach than others. Some people may need to be given permission to set aside time and explore their own bodies through curiosity and movement. We are all different. 


I’ve learned that not everyone will “press reset” on their nervous systems. I’ve a friend who did learn how to run through cognitive effort - it was a better route for him than rolling on the floor, even though I thought rolling would get him there faster. His cognitive effort led to more awareness, and for him, it worked. 


We should all walk and run beautifully, like a poetry. - without cognitive effort. But very few do and they have no idea how they are moving (without cognitive awareness). Sometimes being unconscious to how we are moving can be a barrier to how we should be or could be moving. 


Having said all of that, I think what Vince is referring to mostly is developing an awareness for how the body is moving. I am pro awareness, just as I am pro natural movement, like walking, without cognitive effort. 


BUT still, it’s tricky, take breathing for example, breathing should be unconscious, and for most it is. Yet, most aren’t aware that the way they are breathing is hindering their health and their ability to fully enjoy and engage in their body and life as they would desire to. For most, cognitive awareness and even effort towards remembering how they were designed to breathe is life changing. To take it a “step” further, breathing is the foundation of walking - cognitive effort put towards breathing can greatly improve the walking expression. So, I guess what I’m saying is “Yes” to both. Perhaps there is room for both awareness, or cognitive effort, and the freedom of unconscious movement when it comes to walking and running. Or maybe a little awareness can lead the way to unconscious freedom of movement. 


I’m sorry for the long ramble, I hope this makes some sense. I appreciate your question as it has really helped me think deeper on this.

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