Walking the New Body

Healing Through Natural Movement

By Walter Krier

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2002.

Most of us wouldn’t imagine needing a lesson in walking, because once we surpass the crawling and walking stages in childhood, many of our movement habits are fixed. But, according to Judith Aston, founder of Aston-Patterning(R) and creator of Aston-Mechanics(R), if we can learn about good body usage, walking holds great potential for our well-being.

Aston explains her philosophy as the New Body approach — a piece of the biomechanical paradigm which is Aston-Mechanics. She considers her Walking the New Body philosophy as more than just another workout. “It is the beginning of a new understanding of ourselves as we move, in a format to help us tailor the lesson to each of our unique bodies and to each of our clients’ unique bodies,” she said recently from her office in Incline Village, Nev.

One of the biggest benefits for bodyworkers who incorporate the New Body approach into their work is how it helps clients keep the changes they discovered in their bodywork sessions and expand them into their day-to-day sense of ease and well-being, explained Aston. “I’ve always noticed that bodywork clients are empowered by discovering how to help themselves find movements that really fit who they are, know why these more natural movements work, know how to find them and know how to use them more and more in their lives,” Aston said.

The New Body

So what is the New Body philosophy all about? “The New Body approach is powerful because it taps the reservoir of hidden potential living under old movement habits, beliefs and attitudes about ourselves and our bodies,” said Aston. “The wisdom that results always seems to be greater than the traditional sum of what I know, with the addition of an expert’s point of view added in.” The New Body approach involves releasing unnecessary tension-holding patterns and the resulting engrained movement habits from the past so natural alignment and movement can emerge from the body’s wisdom. It is guided by accurate biomechanical principles allowing us to understand and use our natural asymmetries rather than struggle with them.1 This enables us to really know what is natural and right in our daily movements.”

“The longer I teach, the more I am amazed at the strength, resiliency and ingenuity that emerges from humans when we align with natural forces and principles,” said Aston. “Unfortunately, this often happens when we are challenged by injury, trauma or extreme stress.” Aston said many daily users of New Body principles are realizing their potential on many levels, not just learning to move more efficiently or recovering from injury or stress.

This long-time educator has released a series of videos that could bring this approach to more people. Aston said the approach and the video are not just for bodyworkers, but are really for anyone who walks and seeks out a greater sense of well-being.

Aston is excited about the value of this approach to the senior community. “Seniors gain so much from this approach – increased vitality, along with simple ways to build strength with resiliency,” she said. “The bottom line is stability, especially to help prevent falls and recover from falls, which we know is a devastating trend as we get older.” In fact, Aston is so committed to the benefits this might have for the senior community that she is in the process of designing a research approach to gait, with specific focus on stability for seniors.

New Body vs. “Traditional” Body

According to Aston, once a body has been “transformed” into a new way of thinking, it recognizes that it isn’t what we do, but how we do what we do that gives us the best results. “For instance, I have a friend, Brenda who loves to walk,” said Aston. “One of her main goals in walking is keeping her tone. Brenda walked for an hour, four times a week and still complained that her lower abdominals and hips didn’t tone up. In fact, her ‘saddlebags’ seemed to be getting bigger. In her ‘traditional’ body, all she could consider was more walking or buying a new abdominal machine and commit herself to adding a new workout. As she discovered her ‘New Body,’ Brenda found that when she walks with better form – having her chest aligned more directly over her pelvis – her abs and hips could tone with the same amount of effort.”

Understanding this, an athlete knows the same principles that apply to one activity may also apply to their sport. For instance, the New Body golfer knows in his muscles that the way he supports himself and uses gravity and ground reaction forces in bending to pick things up and even wash the dishes can translate to the efficiency of his golf swing. We could actually say that each day, each activity is cross-training.

Benefits of the New Body

New Body principles complement walking in several ways. Let’s begin by breaking walking down into its basic components: the body’s base of support; the body’s alignment or posture; the resulting relationship to gravity and the related force; direction and timing of ground reaction force; and the resulting spatial and force designs as the weight segments move.

All the thousands of nuances and varieties of walking patterns can be mathematically described by these four principles and their inter-relationships. Most of us are aware of the benefits of good alignment and a good base of support, but have we considered how to use the forces of gravity and ground reaction and the resulting benefits of weight transfer? As we do, new areas of the hidden human potential arise.

In traditional biomechanics, the centerline is generally held stationary, forcing the arms and legs to wrap around the centerline to move. This requires our muscles, as well as our sub-cortical mind, to be constantly working to stabilizing the pull of the limbs against the centerline structures. As the New Body emerges, the major body segments transfer weight over each foot as we move.

Several benefits result. The first is increased stability, which occurs by being securely balanced and aligned over each foot. If we are walking on slippery ground, there is less of a chance that one foot will slip out from under us because of poor alignment. Secondly, the benefit of increased power occurs by knowing how and when to use the force of ground reaction. Many people are amazed to find an uphill climb takes less exertion in their New Body.

Whole-body massage through movement is another benefit that occurs as the weight of the body segments in motion affects the body’s structure that creates a process of massage for the soft tissue and joints. The process is completed by the alternating rhythm of work and rest phases. As one leg is weighted, the other relaxes for a moment before it is weighted again. When walking, this cycle of work and rest brings the healing quality of natural massage in our movements. This process increases our endurance because our muscles are being renewed by the work/rest cycle.

Relaxed mental focus and clarity occurs when our mind releases excess tension. We may experience less conflict or “static” in our consciousness, allowing the brain’s movement control center more clarity. The joy of natural movement emerges as the mind can more clearly and immediately do its work. We can learn to recognize the right amount of force, the right spatial design and the right timing of our steps. The New Body is incredibly smart.

Finally, let’s not forget the benefit of graceful movement that occurs by moving, living and knowing ourselves by our own blueprint.

Releasing the “Old” Body

Aston said the New Body needs to be informed by accurate movement principles that can become the inner coach for all our tasks. In the modern, Western world, much of this immediate “rightness” has been confused by old ideas about the body, particularly in athletic training. Traditional biomechanics teaches us to force new skills and greater strength on ourselves, often following the body’s stress signals as if they were the guideposts toward improvement. We might have tried to imitate our favorite athlete and wonder why we don’t see immediate improvement. In fact, we may experience problems because each body is unique and needs its own set of guidelines.

The New Body knows our current status changes constantly, relative to physical, spiritual and emotional factors. Some days we may feel more or less energy. Some days we may feel greater irritation from previous injury. The New Body takes all these factors into account for today’s workout. Coaches, personal trainers and bodywork professionals who understand this can find ways to tailor training more accurately to the individual.

“The New Body knows that the best way to enhance performance is to release unnecessary tension-holding brought along from the past,” said Aston. “Without this vital practice of release into better body usage, it would be like painting your car without taking off the rust. This would encourage tightening over already engrained tensions which increase the body’s stress.”

The memories of past compensations to injury, high impact training, trauma and stress will record themselves in the body and must be taken into account. When the body neutralizes the past, it can respond more precisely to its current circumstances and changes that occur day to day and over our lifetimes.

“We realize,” said Aston, “when the body releases through massage or deep tissue work, there is a moment where the client has an opportunity to transform, which is only complete if the changes are utilized. Particularly challenging is changing habitual movement patterns, i.e., those 8,000 steps we take every day. I am totally clear that alignment with the natural forces and principles is an opportunity for transformation. Hopefully, we can make connections toward better body usage clear and simple, because all laws of nature are essentially simple. Once therapists discover these principles, they remark, ‘This just makes sense’.”