How long is your stride? Not something you would necessarily contemplate unless you're getting measured for new trousers or if you're running, but it has a greater bearing on your life than may at first be realised. I'm particularly referring to your stride when simply walking.
Of course, our stride will be partly dependent on the length of our legs; what will be a reasonable step for one person, will not necessarily be appropriate for another. And anyway, depending on how rushed we are, whether we are late for an appointment or ambling along the promenade on holiday, we will either step out briskly or saunter in a lazy stroll, in crowds we will zig-zag, and in busy shops we probably shuffle.
Our manner of walk also says a lot about us from a body language point of view; we will see the confident stride, the swagger, the swing-a-long, the lope, the shuffle, the stagger, the limp, the mincing step, the wiggle, the hurried, the lazy, the aggressive, the graceful glide, the slithering slide along with the long and the short. Such variety of step is probably part of our particular postural characteristics, along with our individual nature, loves, hates and manners all help make life truly interesting. Wouldn't life be boring if we were all the same?
It's interesting to notice how people walk and next time you're out and about, just casually observe the different manners, attitudes and particularly the length of stride of people passing. Our height of shoe heel will affect us, but most of all, our habits in walking are what determine how we walk. Aside of situations when we are either in extreme haste or leisurely ambling, how do you normally walk?
It is a typical problem for many of us to over-stride; that is to walk with a stride that is too long for our length of leg. Over-striding can cause us to tighten in our lower back, to make us lean forwards from the hips so we're off balance, we are also very likely to stiffen our neck and pull our head backwards with excessive neck tension. This will also affect our breathing, confidence and general level of stress. If we wear high heels then over-striding can be particularly harmful to the lower back.
The MBT Masai Barefoot Technology is based on the walking gait of the Masai warriors. The shaped sole encourages greater use of certain muscles through the legs, buttocks and back, toning them while also apparently reducing strain on knee and hip joints. They encourage a shorter stride than most of us are accustomed to and at first we need to learn how to walk in them. Many people find them very beneficial to health and comfort. My only concern about this type of footwear that lifts you quite high off the ground and requires you to walk in a special way.... what happens when you take them off? Once you get used to them you feel quite odd without them. But it's natural to be without shoes! If we get used to wearing them, we will also need to get used to not wearing them.
I have never been a fan of artificial postural aids and there are many around. Such things as orthotics shoe inserts can support the foot better and aid comfort in walking, standing, but they can also encourage the leg muscles to work even less; they encourage the body to not support itself as the 'crutch' is doing it for us so our problem can get worse over time. It's the same with back supports; while they may offer support to a weak back, they also encourage our back muscles to not provide adequate support by themselves and our need of the device becomes greater. Wearing spectacles encourages our eyes to focus badly to accommodate the strength of lens. I think it's far better if we can encourage our body to support itself properly without any device or crutch. This is what we address with the Alexander Technique; we get the body to work well by itself, without artificial aid.
It's a good idea to avoid over-striding when walking; take smaller steps, just as MBT shoes encourage. But we can do so without special shoes!. Our stride shouldn't be so short that we are mincing along, but not so we're stretching out too much either. If we avoid over-striding, our balance will be better and consequently using less strain. Naturally there are many aspects of walking healthily and naturally, from being free and loose, tall and upright and in good balance. Keeping your neck free is also a great aid. But avoiding over-striding can be of great benefit in reducing levels of stress while improving the general functioning of our whole body.