Sherry Brourman is a physical therapist and author of Walk Yourself Well. She's in Beijing to give seminars at Yoga Yard about how walking incorrectly affects our health. She gives us the background on how she walked into this line of work, how to improve our gait and past experiences helping improve her clients' well-being through changing the way they walk.
How did you become a “walking expert”?
I had a horribly painful bad back. I was 26 years old and had a baby, and a busy private practice filled with patients with bad backs. I didn’t have time for the doctor-recommended spine fusion, so I had to learn from the signals my body was telling me, what caused and what relieved the back pain. I realized that since we all walked more than any other physical endeavor, it only made sense to change that pattern, in order to change how we did everything else! Whatever helped me, I tried on my patients, and between us, I learned what worked.
For example, I gently punched my right hip to the right, with every right step. This was a habit—not genetics. I had to bring my hips back to center in order to stop pounding on my right hip and lower back. I came to learn that we all had ‘bad habits,’ and I was discovering that they were all changeable. I saw the ‘standard’ or fluidity of walking that, if done correctly, could re-balance the body, When we practice this regularly, our bones will actually re-settle into better alignment. My pain reduced tremendously and so did that of my patients. I’ve had 25 years to practice on my patients and myself. I never did have that back fusion and I suspect I never will!
Can someone really walk the wrong way, and how might this affect them?
Any ‘habit,’ like locking the knees, or rolling the feet in, or leaning back, or having the belly on ‘mush’ mode during walking can cause enough malalignment in the joints to eventually cause weakness, strain, pain and eventually, damage.
But since our ligaments do not hurt until damaged, we have no idea this is happening. It’s like a paper clip which can bend back and forth so many times--until it weakens and breaks.
What are some of the benefits of changing the way you walk?
The beauty is turning your walk into real exercise. We have the opportunity, with every step, to lift, balance and actually strengthen all of our "anti-gravity" muscles and subsequently, all of our weight bearing joints. It turns every second into a second at the gym!
Can you give us an example of someone who’s been able to heal or significantly improve their physical well-being through changing the way they walk?
At 60 years old, Peter had high-level neck, shoulder and radiating arm pain. He was very athletic, a movie director. He was very proud in his demeanor, which included carrying his chest and chin extra high, creating tremendous pressure on the back of his neck. He nearly had surgery. He learned to lower both and walk using the strength of his abdomen instead of trying to hold is body up with his shoulders. His neck and arm pain cleared and he presented himself with broad, soft shoulders instead of a puffed-up chest.
Mitra had shin splints that stopped her completely from running and working out, at 27 years old. She was gaining weight and becoming depressed. Her walk included locked knees and extremely rolled-in feet (pronated). Her running style only exaggerated her walking style. By learning to lift her inner ankles, it was relatively easy to soften her knees and use her belly much more effectively. She added the stunning balancing effects of yoga, implementing all that she was doing with her walk. Mitra is back to running, and much less depressed, and healing more each day that she realizes this is something she has total control of.
You say that walking and posture can affect one’s physical shape, creating things like double chins and pot bellies—how does this work?
There is an old adage that says, ‘Form Follows Function.’ Skinny calves mean that we are not pushing off effectively with each step. A double chin means the head is forward of the body and the muscles on the front side of the neck have lost their job, and the muscles on the back side of the neck have taken over. Saggy buns also mean we’re lacking a good strong push off. And loosy goosy back of the arms means we’re not having an effective arm swing, optimally meant to help propel us forward as we walk.
Are there any physical issues you noticed in particular when you were in Beijing before? What might we do specifically to remedy these?
Yes actually the thing I noticed the most was locking knees. And when knees are hyper straight, it allows a sitting down, so to speak, in the hips. This allows the belly muscles to rest, even go to sleep. The remedy unlock the knees.
Will your book, Walk Yourself Well, be available for purchase while you’re in town?
Yes, it will be available at Yoga Yard.
What: Sherry Brourman's Walking Therapy seminar
When: Apr. 2-Apr. 3, 9:30am-5pm
Where: Yoga Yard