Walking Zen

Walking in NYC can be difficult, primarily because of all the other moving obstacles. NYC pedestrians, if they are destination-focused, tend to walk much the way commuters in, say, Dallas, drive: at a constant speed of just-past-comfortable, and with a desire to get out from behind anyone in their way.

Much like my fellow New Yorkers, I have a particularly swift walking pace. This speed is set unconsciously by the nervous system, and I’ve recently learned that walking rhythm is actually is handled by the spinal cord itself without any assistance by the brain. This means that whenever walking speed has to be altered, the task of changing pace is transferred up to the brain for a conscious decision. I’ve noticed that I get vaguely agitated when this happens.

Breaking rhythm seems to be something my body wants to avoid. When presented with a jam of people, my feet will often take the same number of steps, just in progressively smaller strides (often until I’m making near-imperceptible baby steps). It’s as though my brain is an irascible boss that my nervous system really doesn’t want to bother.

All of this depends on whether or not I’m actively trying to get somewhere. If I have no particular destination and am just enjoying walking around, I tend to move slower and with more flexibility to changes in speed. I mosey.

So my goal for my daily commute is to mosey more. But it’s hard. I have to really pay attention to each step. Unlike meditation, where breathing is controlled voluntarily in an effort to quiet the mind, walking mindfully requires the exertion of energy and a lot of environmental navigation (the tracking and predicting of others’ movements and the shifting of speed and position to compensate). To actively subvert natural biorhythms is a tricky business. The brain has only so much bandwidth with which to juggle all these activities, which is probably why it farmed out the walking rhythm to the spinal cord in the first place.

It’s a challenge. Most of the time I end up just reminding myself every few minutes to slow down.

2 thoughts on “Walking Zen”

  1. When presented with a jam of people, my feet will often take the same number of steps, just in progressively smaller strides (often until Iā€™m making near-imperceptible baby steps).

    This reminds me of high school marching band, specifically when we were in a line marching in or out. Just like with traffic, the idea is to keep your eye on what’s happening way up ahead and NEVER STOP SUDDENLY. šŸ™‚

  2. Maybe my baby steps are a remnant of my marching band training. šŸ™‚ I still think of band when I walk heel-to-toe carrying an open beverage, or when I fold and hang up slacks.

Comments are closed.