by Dan Bienenfeld

Through the literature and folklore of nearly every indigenous culture, there have always been depictions of dark energies embodied. The zombie…the idea of a lifeless defeated soul, whose resolve is reflected in such distinct movement/gait patterns, has been portrayed in theater arts for centuries. The lack of movement in the whole body, with particular rigidity in the legs and ankles create a slow, side-to-side type of pattern.

In a similar way, the hopeless and shattered reality of a slave is demonstrated in their movement patterns as well. The chains of captivity and the lack of liberty create a walk that is characterized by a lack of movement in the ankle joints.

Prisoners, with or without shackles are also patterned with the stiff leg/ankle and side-to-side movements. The lack of freedom requires a contractive posture and movement, also reflecting defeat and inner turmoil together. The zombie, slave and the prisoner share a similar lack of forward velocity and fluidity, as if what is in front of them, or where they are on their way to, was not their own choosing.

Let us examine this movement pattern more closely:

Take a moment and take your body for a short walk while embodying the slave, the zombie and the prisoner. Notice how your natural movement is affected, and specifically what is happening in your ankles, legs and feet.

The human ankle joint, a simple hinge joint that flexes and points (dorsiflexion and plantar-flexion) is designed to vary in angle according to the phase of the step it is involved in. If we break down the main components of Gait, as far as the ankle is concerned, it is described as a combination of two main phases to the normal walking cycle: the stance phase, when the foot is on the ground, and the swing phase, when it is moving forward.

Approximately sixty percent of the normal cycle is spent in the stance phase, of which twenty five percent is in the double stance, with both feet on the ground. Forty percent is in the swing phase. Of course this means that we do spend more of the time on the ground than we do in the air.

According to conventional analysis, within the stance phase there are four components (see Figure 1): (all components refer to the reaching leg)

* The heel strike-is when the reaching leg connects to the ground through the heel as it’s first contact.

* The foot flat-is when the entire foot is on the ground (not yet fully weight bearing).

* The midstance -is when the entire weight shifts to this foot, and the foot and leg is entirely under the pelvis.

* The push off-is where the weight rolls through the ball of the foot and toes (and the opposite leg is accelerated forward).

Figure 1: Stance Phase

If you take a moment to try this out, you will understand these four components of the stance phase. Understand that these components are really all part of the same step, and this is really just an attempt to analyze the sequence of parts. Again, this is the conventional way of breaking down the step. In this conventional model, the weight lands in the heel while the body is slightly behind the landing foot, sending vectors of pressure into the back of the body rather than through the center of the vertical body.

Figure 2: Stance Phase – Rolf style

According to Dr Ida Rolf, founder of Structural Integration (Rolfing), there should be no real separate heel strike, but rather the whole foot would connect with the ground at the same time. This would require that the body weight would be entirely over it rather than behind it. So using the Rolf Structural Integration model, the initial contact would occur during the flat foot phase. This would mean that the weight would land on the whole foot while the leg is perpendicular to the ground, rather than when the weight is in back of the leg. This distinction allows for a more forward position of the torso, and allows for a more dramatic lift of the body as the weight rolls through the forefoot (push off phase).

Take a moment and try this one out, using the aforementioned Rolf model. Notice the difference in your body between the two ideas by taking a few steps of one and then the other. The Rolf model can certainly feel more forward thrusting, and more elevating, but decide for yourself

Now consider that in a simple step, there is the possibility of the failure of natural sequence or misalignment of the roll through, or any number of possibilities. Most people do not realize that the combined weight of an individual, plus the velocity of their movement through space can total up to a few thousand pounds of weight passing through the ankle joint. With this kind of weight, the better the alignment and the more shock absorbing the better for the individual, otherwise the rest of the body has to absorb the shock and compensate for the ankle and foot’s lack of balance.

According to conventional thinking, the swing phase is made of three components (this refers to the leg that is swinging forward): (see Figure 3)

Acceleration- the beginning of the forward swing (the foot must dorsiflex to clear the ground).

Mid-swing-the femur is in the vertical position, parallel with the weight bearing side (although the lower limb is still posterior to the knee).

Deceleration-the swinging leg is at maximum forward position just prior to the heel striking the ground.

Figure 3: Push-off Phase

The above description of the swing phase is not in conflict with the Rolf model, other than the understanding of the deceleration phase, which Rolf would want to see the whole foot connecting to the ground, not the heel.

Now please follow me closely by doing this movement as you read this:

Prior to taking a step, we subtly prepare by weight shifting onto the side that will remain on the ground. The knee and hip on the non-weight bearing side should initiate a slight bend (flexion) as it dangles forward. This dangle is best originated, not from the hip flexors, but from higher up, at the T12/L1 (lumbo-dorsal hinge, or LDH) area, where the psoas muscle originates (right around the solar plexus area). This dangle, or pendulum effect, when coming from the LDH, activates and relates the spine to the leg, and allows for a moving sacrum rather than a fixed sacrum.

To really feel this dangle effect, place your one hand on your front and one on your back at the level of your solar plexus (bottom of rib cage).

As this leg dangles forward, the foot must dorsiflex (lift the toes and foot) in order to clear the ground, but how much should it dorsiflex? When someone asked Abraham Lincoln how long a mans legs should be, he replied, “long enough to reach the ground.”

So, the answer is, only enough to clear the ground, and no more! If you over dorsiflex, the hip flexor automatically over-engages and the knee will usually lock or hyper-extend (over straighten). In order to avoid this, you must reduce the dorsiflexion and probably shorten the stride a bit. A shorter stride will not require as much dorsiflexion and will also reduce the over working of the hamstring in order to pull (leverage) the torso forward over the leg as it lands… try this.

So- smaller stride (for most of you) and soft knee floating forward, with minimal and relaxed dorsiflexion. Now, as the foot connects with the ground on the leading leg, allow the weight to invest into the foot gently (the Rolf way, where the whole foot connects at the same time). Guide the weight through the center of the foot as it rolls towards the toes. As the weight transfers through the toes, there is slight elevation all the way through the body, even in the inter-vertebral spaces. This is the phase of the step that re-heightens the body, as it involves ground reaction force.

Ground reaction force is a physics term that is best understood with the following example: When a rocket launches, there is a thrust of energy downward into the ground. This downward thrust allows enough energy to lift the rocket off of the ground and through the gravity field. Gravity was not invented by Isaac Newton, but in his third law of motion he was the first to state that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Another example of this is shown when we step off a boat onto the bank of a lake. As we move in the direction of the shore, the boat tends to move in the opposite direction (leaving us face-down in the water, if we aren’t careful!) Back to your step:

Now let this weight bearing knee stay soft the whole time-this gesture slides the body weight over the foot surface allowing horizontal transition. This is ideally where you want the movement to happen, and this also reduces shock magnitude. This is where the vertical gravitational pressure is transferred to the horizontal plane. Shock absorption occurs throughout the body, but it is essential that it occur here! Take a few more steps to understand this idea, and then come to just stand.

Note that while simply standing, the feet meet the lower leg system at about a 90-degree angle. As we walk, this angle is designed to increase as the leading leg dangles forward (with minimal dorsiflexion), and then reaches 90 degrees when the weight invests into the foot again. Then the weight passes forward through the toes by allowing the knee to softly bend, the angle reduces until the cycle repeats.

The key here is to allow the knee to unlock and slightly bend, and you must relax the ankle in order to do this. If the ankle is not relaxed, the knee will not be able to horizontally transition the weight over the foot surface easily.

Inadvertently, I have also shown you how to allow for some hip shift. As the weight lands on the weight bearing side, allow a slight hip shift as your weight passes through the hip. This is free life insurance for your hip joints. A locked knee is no friend to the pelvis (hip).

So when the ankle is relaxed, the knee can float forward as the leg dangles from the LDH (put hands on solar plexus and in back). There are no locked joints with a fully alive and mobile person, this is the new rule for the free human being!

The enjoyment of walking involves elegant shifts and releases of weight and pressures. In contrast, walking onto a locked knee tightens the ankle and the pelvis, it looks like the walker is resisting the ground, and really not using gravity to assist the movement. Keeping the ankle tight will also result in a tight knee and pelvis.

Now, be an actor and portray a zombie, with stiff 90-degree ankles, right? How about a slave or a prisoner……stiff 90 degrees ankles, right? Now come back to your fully mobile self! Which one suits you better?

If you carefully observe yourself throughout your day, you will likely find yourself moving in varying ways, but might be able to see how your body will reflect your state of being, both your resistances and your joys. The conscious being includes body mindfulness as part of their journey, as this is the physical representation of who we are.

Please see more movement awareness exercises in Dan Bienenfeld’s new book’; Align for Life, Journey to Structural Integration, available at