Walking backwards: A step in the right direction?

When I was staying in an apartment in Detroit, way back in 1995, I would see this Japanese lady walk around the park every morning. What attracted me to this normal routine was that she spent most of the time walking backwards. I remembered her habit when I read an article last month on the benefits of retro-walking or backward walking.

The benefits of this kind of walking, according to the article, include better posture, stronger muscles (front and back of the shin and the ankle) and joints (the knee and the patella), improved coordination and balance, and sharpened reflexes. Apparently, walking backwards also increases our cardiovascular endurance and burns more calories than walking forward (under same conditions). In fact, 100 steps backward is as effective as 1000 steps forward! (so they say).

I decided to take it up during my daily morning walk. I usually walk inside my villa complex and the tiled path is smooth and predictable. The first time was scary. I constantly glanced back to make sure I was not bumping into cats, newspaper men, pavements, fellow walkers, and cars parked on the road side. Anyone seeing me walk that day would have assumed that I was stark drunk. After nearly 2 weeks, I am now walking at the same speed as my forward walks, and have got the hang of it. And I think the article is certainly right in one aspect – my heart rate does go up higher when I walk backwards……

One word of caution: you can lose your balance dramatically if the walking surface is not even. So try a flat surface (ideally the treadmill) until you get the hang of it before you try more adventurous surfaces – like the “paved” roads in my city!

And apart from the above benefits, I found that backward walking is critical for living in the moment. During my morning walks, my mind usually wanders from morning chores and servant problems to work deadlines and teenage issues. But when I started backward walking, I realized I had to focus my entire body and mind on the process constantly to adjust my stride and to check for impediments. And the next step? I was totally involved in walking. I started noticing my posture, my heart rate, my gait and my breathing, and focused solely on my immediate surroundings. If that is not mindful yoga, I do not know what is. I truly felt I was living in the moment during those few minutes.

While this may be true when you take up a new habit, sport, or skill, walking is different. We have been learning to do it since we were eight months old. And every time we walk, we usually pay attention to the trivial things around us – cars, pot holes, pedestrians, pick pockets, shop windows, beggars, vendors……..and when we exercise, we use that time to either plan the day or distance ourselves from the act of walking to think of other things.

Backward walking forces you to come back, go inward, and pay attention. It takes a daily habit and turns it backwards (pun intended) to create a healthier and a more mindful You. Go ahead, try it and let me know how it goes….


(Image courtesy: http://munfitnessblog.com/why-should-you-also-walk-backwards/)

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