All the walking in the world won't do you any good if you're tweaking your knee, jostling your spine, or overtaxing tight muscles. Jonathan FitzGordon, a New York City yoga instructor for seven years, created the Core Walking program to help his students practice posture and alignment outside of yoga class. His approach aims to reduce wear and tear on the bones, joints, and ligaments and help the body rediscover its inherent alignment. "If you learn to walk optimally," he says, "you'll create ease in your body with every step you take." Here, FitzGordon identifies four alignment remedies for common problems.
1. Lift Your Crown
Problem: A jutting head or chin can throw your neck and spine out of alignment, which can cause strain.
Solution: Lengthen the spine and the back of your neck to bring your shoulders to the proper position; allow your spine to unfurl.
Benefit: Helps your body find its natural alignment.
2. Engage the Core
Problem: A weak core, which puts excess pressure on the disks between your vertebrae, causes compression in the spine that can result in disk degeneration over time.
Solution: Gently draw your navel in toward your spine to strengthen and stabilize your core muscles.
Benefit: Toned abdominals reduce pressure on your disks, safeguarding against back injury.
3. Stop Clenching
Problem: Overactive glutes work overtime -- even when they don't need to. "It's often an unconscious attempt to stabilize the body," FitzGordon says. Clenched buttocks push the thigh bones forward, constricting the hips and lower back.
Solution: Release the glutes as you walk. Let your hips drift back slightly, so they can sway.
Benefit: Reduced lower-back strain and reduced tension. Plus, you allow your abs to engage and stabilize the body (rather than rely on your glutes to do the work).
4. Shorten Your Stride
Problem: Overstriding, which causes your leg muscles to work too hard, forces the knee into hyperextension, which can degrade the joint over time.
Solution: Take smaller steps. "Walking should feel like gliding, not dragging," FitzGordon says.
Benefit: Better alignment in the pelvis, spine, and rib cage; protects your knees; lets your skeleton support your body more efficiently. Focus your energy forward and keep hips, knees, and ankles in line by taking narrow, straight steps.
Text by Kate Hanley; photography by John-Francis Bourke