In the modern world we move all wrong. We sit too much, we slouch, we walk in ways in which we take all the shock in our knees and hips (i.e. landing on our heels). It’s okay—sort of—and has been made slightly more okay with continued advancement in shoe and chair technology. But it certainly is causing long-term discomfort for many of us (I write this as I’m grappling with the aftermath of a back spasm). But there are many sources of information out there that point to a different way, such as Katy Bowman’s Move Your DNA (as I wrote about here), this TEDx talk on standing properly, and ancestral (or wilderness) skills.
Now that I’m meditating regularly, I couldn’t help but cross-pollinate what I’ve learned in my dabbling in ancestral skills with what I’m learning in meditation. Sit spots become an obvious meditation option, as does the use of wide-angle vision (defocusing the eyes and taking in the whole landscape), and fox walking becomes a natural walking meditation.
To be clear, fox walking doesn’t literally look like a fox walking but is a term for a specific way to move in the wilderness: quietly, painlessly (even without shoes), and in a way that won’t startle wildlife. Note: trying to walk this way with stiff shoes or sneakers is difficult so if you do try it I recommend doing it barefoot (which is also a good way to connect to the Earth for many reasons).
When you walk barefoot, the proper way is to place the outer edge (or “blade”) of your foot down first and roll inward, putting your heel down last. This means minimal impact, silent steps, and time to move your foot before committing it if there is a sharp rock or acorn (a big hazard of autumn) underfoot. Of course, with padded shoes, asphalt, our eyes pointed downward, and a constant urgency to “be somewhere,” this slow form of walking is not adapted to life in the frenetic consumer culture.
But fox walking makes for a great meditative exercise. You have to no choice but to walk slowly; there are a lot of things to attend to and thus fox walking keeps you out of your head and present in the moment (a key point of meditation).
For those interested in trying it, below is a step by step, and below that is a four minute video by Owl Eye Wilderness Survival (a good introduction) and there are many videos out there: such as Survival Lilly, Tom Brown III, and Animal Man Survivor, which offer extra nuance if this practice really excites you, but all basically say this:
Step by Step
Step 1: Bend your knees. Your knees are there to absorb impact. Walking in the modern world, we underuse these essential shock absorbers. Walking with bent knees not only cushions impact, it strengthens your legs, gives you a lower profile, and prevents you from bouncing up and down (which really draws eyes to you in the woods).
Step 2: Take short steps. Walking in shoes, we take long strides—leaning, almost falling, forward. With fox walking you are consciously placing each foot, only committing to placing it down when you know it is safe to do so. That requires short steps, so you can retract or move your foot if necessary. You don’t put weight on that foot until you know it’s safe (and noiseless).
Step 3: Walk with your feet pointed forward. We tend to bow our feet outwards like ducks when walking in shoes—not easy to fix as our muscle fibers have actually shortened after years of walking like this—but intentionally rotating your feet inwards will help correct this over time. And by walking with feet forward, you have more control and balance with your foot placement.
Step 4: Walk in a straight line, feet along the two sides of that (imaginary) line—as much as possible, but realistically the terrain will shape where you place your feet to a large degree. Walking along a line keeps your center of gravity in the same plane, again so you won’t draw as much attention to your form as if you wobble back and forth.
Step 5: Now, finally we can talk about the actual steps. With each step you take, first place the outer edge of your foot down gently, rolling from the outer blade to inside of the ball of your foot. Only after the full ball of your foot has made contact (and it feels safe) do you place the heel of your foot. This way of stepping ensures you have a painless step (and don’t snap a twig), and also helps to muffle the sound of leaf debris underfoot.
Step 6: Then, only when you feel that there is nothing sharp (or loud) underneath, do you commit and transfer your weight to that foot. Then you can gently, slowing pick up your back foot and slowly move it forward to start the next step. Walking like this—slowly, methodically—means you do not have to look down at the ground. Sure, you can scan the terrain ahead (in case there’s a porcupine sleeping in a bed of beechnut shells) but mostly you can keep your head and eyes up fully immersing yourself in the environment (this is where wide-angle vision comes in). You’ll see and experience more of your surroundings, almost at a semi-conscious level of awareness (until you sense movement and narrow your vision to focus on it).
Why did I go on for a thousand words about fox walking? Three reasons:
First, it is another way, like floppy fin syndrome, to reveal the consumer cultural conditioning and the unhealthy habits and body mechanics it has spread, and help correct them.
Second, as a meditative practice, it is leaps and bounds (or should I say small silent steps) ahead of other forms of walking meditations, even if few would currently call fox walking a meditation practice.
And third, fox walking is one of those skills that we can reclaim, and benefit physically and mentally from practicing (and perhaps our children or even we will find use in honing this skill, whether for playing, connecting to nature, hunting, or even avoiding difficult encounters).
So give it a try and if you do, let me know how it goes.