After being in Central Mexico for a month last summer, and now living in Ajijic, I discovered that my body felt revitalized from walking on uneven ground. The crude, cobbled-stone streets and high curbs in Lake Chapala, Oaxaca, and Guanajuato helped stabilize my distorted cervical and lumbar spine and offered relief from chronic pain and stiffness.
Mexico is notorious for its uneven terrain that demands paying attention and watching where you step which includes dodging holes, tree roots and sleeping dogs. Maybe it was walking miles every day, but I felt stronger and more muscularly toned wandering Mexico’s challenging obstacle-course streets.
The eye-brain-foot proprioception of walking on uneven ground and trails is keenly activated with each variable step. Proprioception is the ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium in order to maintain balance. The brain and body have to work a little harder when navigating uncertain topography. This synchronous process helps to fine tune brain synapses and neurotransmitters that send electrical signals to muscle fibers to facilitate coordinated movement.
Walking on uneven ground is what our bodies were designed to do, like most other mammals, not habitually walking on flat, concrete surfaces. Hard, unyielding planes only contribute to our chronic back and knee pain complicated by added weight from long hours of sitting in front of computer and TV screens. Habitual, repetitive motion, as well as lack of movement, are recipes for distress.
Orienting oneself to uneven ground can be challenging to someone who does not feel sure-footed or stable on their feet, and one must heed those messages. Muscles can contract or spasm as the body adjusts its inner compass. A walking stick or pair of hiking poles can assist in creating greater confidence and stability. Well-fitting and well-supportive walking shoes are essential to establish a firm connection between you and the earth. Being aware of how we carry ourselves on our skeletal frame, adjusting our stride and consciously breathing (in through our nose, out through our mouth) can carry us miles in a relaxed, flowing rhythm.
As the earth appears to be shifting beneath our feet, we are given the opportunity to face and explore the everyday challenges of being human. We can feel destabilized by health, social or global issues and yet greet them with wonder and curiosity. We are essentially walking on new ground every day simply by being alive. Learning how to move more fluidly upon this spinning planet may be what is called for to more strategically navigate living in unpredictable times.
What if one of the most beneficial commitments we can make to ourselves is moving our bodies daily to the rhythms of Mother Earth and her asymmetries? It may feel awkward at first but, in placing one unsteady foot in front of the other, we will gain greater strength, mobility and resilience in order to effectively adapt to the inevitable changes before us.