The Lost Art of Walking

By James Bardot, July 25, 2021


“It doesn’t matter a woman’s age or build,” a French woman once quipped to me. “If she knows how to walk, she can drive any man crazy!” How true her words proved to be, but they weren’t really necessary. All you had to do was watch her walk. Wherever she went, heads turned.


Few of us realize how strongly our carriage influences others, but for those who do, like this woman, it can wield enormous power. My own awareness of this increased greatly when I first began practicing in Paris and noticed how differently we and the French people moved. Whereas we tend to walk in a somewhat disorganized manner with our hips held tight and our arms swinging wildly, the Parisians seemed to move with much more grace and efficiency, and an unmistakable sexiness as well.


A few years ago, I took my son, David, then 14, to Paris and pointed this out to him to see if he would notice. It didn’t take long. Soon, he was able to identify nationalities simply by their gait. Once, we were sitting on the steps of the Rodin Museum, taking in the va et vien, when a woman in a black dress began walking towards us. Her  shoulders were calm, her eyes were focused straight ahead, and with each step she took the movement traveled gracefully up her body in a smooth, unbroken line. “Definitely French,” I heard my son whisper to himself, transfixed by her movements.


Ah, you say, but Paris is the City of Love and Parisians have been cultivating that image for  centuries. Perhaps, but if you look around, you’ll find elements of it in every culture. To this day, I  can still recall elegant, flowing movements of the Maasai when I was in Tanzania, and I’m sure you  too have come across certain people or cultures in your life and thought to yourself, gee, I wish I  could move like that!


Actually, you can. While some people seem to be born with the ability, it’s a skill that anyone can master. Remember, before we learned to speak, we communicated through body language, so all you’re really doing is reawakening patterns that are already encoded in your DNA. If you’d like to give it a try, here are some tips to get you going.


The first thing you need to do is to make sure you have the right footwear, and by this, I mean almost anything besides flip-flops and high heels. Shoes lacking heel straps require you to grab with your toes as you take a step, thereby bypassing many of the leg muscles normally used in walking and rendering a graceful stride impossible. Similarly, high-heeled shoes restrict the foot’s flexion ability and results in a clunky walking pattern. (I once had a client who was able to pull this off, but to date she’s been the only one. And yes, I still remember her!)


Next on the list is to slow down, way down! We Americans are always rushing about, but you can’t feel much of anything when you’re in a hurry, can you? Stop, take a deep breath, and as you exhale, begin to notice the world around you. Feel the sunlight on your face… The gust of wind in your hair … That crack in the sidewalk up ahead… The birds chirping in the distance…


Now, take this heightened awareness and turn it inwards. Don’t think. Feel. Which way do your feet point when you take a step? Do your heels land softly, or do they hit the ground with a thud? Now check your hips. You should feel a soft, rhythmical side to side sway each time you take a step. If you don’t, or find your arms swinging wildly, it means your hips are locked, so try calming your shoulders and arms and transfer the movement back to the pelvic girdle where it belongs. Finally, where are you looking?


Most people walk looking down at the ground. Chest up. Eyes up. Hello world! You’ll probably notice as well that arching your back will not only make your hip sway easier, and your footfalls softer, but will also raise up your chest and allow you to breathe deeper—another bonus. It may require some focused effort at first, but with a little practice it will soon become second nature. I firmly believe that people would look better, feel better, and enjoy life more if they traded some of their time in the gym, dojo, or dance studio for a daily walk in fresh air.


Once, a retired Taiwanese client asked me for some pointers on walking and for two weeks practiced my suggestions. When she came in the next time and walked, I had trouble believing it was the same person. Without realizing it, my senses picked up and I found myself suddenly sitting up straighter. Had the French woman I’d mentioned earlier witnessed my response, I’m sure she would have laughed. And men, don’t think this applies only to females. Women have eyes too. It goes both ways.


In summary, the benefits of mindful living are now well established, and if you incorporate walking into that awareness, your rewards will be even greater, not to mention the confidence you’ll gain as people start to notice. In truth, it’s not so much about trying to look sexy, but rather simply walking with purpose and self-awareness, and when it’s done well, it can have an almost intoxicating effect on others. Plus, that sway in your hips will not only help preserve your joints and promote healthy muscle function, it will aid in your digestion, elimination, and a host of other bodily functions.

So, since you’re already walking, why not put in that little extra effort and do it well? Trust me, people will notice, and your muscles, joints and organs will thank you years down the road for the investment you’ve made in your body today.


Feel free to pass this article on to anyone whom you feel might benefit. – J B


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The Source of Pain in Our Bodies

By James Bardot, Sept 1, 2015


Recently a Boston Marathon runner came to see me with two specific complaints, a pain in is right ankle and a nagging pain in his neck. To his surprise, when I began working on his right foot, he felt sensations in his neck.

We naturally assume that the site and the source of a physical problem are the same. For example, if our neck hurts, we want someone to rub our neck. Why? Because experience has taught us that when we stub our toe, or hit our thumb with a hammer, the pain and the event share a common source.


When it comes to chronic pain, however, it’s almost never the case. The reason is this: Our bodies are held together by a multifaceted membrane called connective tissue that runs unbroken from the top of our heads to our small toe. These tissues cover every part of our bodies and literally hold us together. To a large part, they define us. They give our bodies shape and structure and control our movements.


When these tissues become compromised through overuse, bad habits, injuries, accidents and other factors, they tend to thicken and bind together, causing structural limitations with far reaching consequences. Just like when you tug on the corner of a bed sheet, the strain will be felt at the opposite end, when stress in one part of this matrix occurs, it can impact places that would seemingly have no relevance to the original problem. And with each new insult to the body, these patterns grow in complexity until the breaking point is reached and chronic pain sets in.


To resolve these long standing problems, we must address the larger issue, the body itself. Imagine if the foundation of your house were to become stressed. No amount adjusting the windows and door frames above will ever solve the problem. The same is true of our physical structure and it is why Rolfing addresses the entire body, rather chase individual symptoms. Only when the entire body is brought into alignment again will issues like that nagging ankle or neck pain have any hope of being resolved.

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The Fourth Pillar of Good Physical Health

By James Bardot, August 1, 2015


We’ve often been told that good physical health consists of three elements: strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and stretching. But when I look over my clients’ intake cards, I rarely find people who engage in all three. Weight lifters often have little interest in stretching or cardio; runners and cyclists pay little attention to stretching and weights; and yoga practitioners are sometimes poorly motivated to do cardiovascular or strength training activities.

To be sure, good health requires a balance of all three and balance is the key word here. Keeping all three in relative proportion is a great prescription for maintaining and improving your physical health. But are they sufficient? Even when people do all three, they can still feel like prisoners in their own bodies. What’s the solution?

When ask myself this question, I often think back to our ancestors and how they lived before the days of automation, or even agriculture. Before we morphed into repetitive behavioral patterns and sedentary living, we were always on the move; nothing was repetitious. In some cultures, this type of living is still common and the results are visible

A few years back, I went to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and was amazed at the grace and poise of the indigenous people, the elegant curves of their spines and their beautifully erect posture. Why? Because like our ancestors, they moved continuously, not in the repetitive, premeditated, gym-structured way common to us now.

The question is, how can we bring this element back into our lives? By letting our bodies move freely without conscious intervention and giving that subcortical loop in our brains free reign again. Things like kicking a soccer ball, shooting hoops, jumping on a trampoline, playing volleyball, body boarding, or throwing a Frisbee at the beach are all good examples and there are countless others. So take a break from your routine and give your body a chance to play and explore. And if you find that one activity causes you discomfort, try another, but keep moving! Your body will benefit, and I can almost guarantee you that your mind will too!

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Finding the Right Stretch For You

By James Bardot, July 1, 2015


Recently, a new client called to see me complaining of unrelenting back pain. After a couple sessions, he reported feeling much better and a few more after that, called to say he was pain free! I told him this was wonderful, but the good news did not last. As we progressed through the ten-series, his pain started recurring. After the 9th session, he called to say he was canceling his 10th session because Rolfing was not helping.

Knowing he was an ardent practitioner of yoga, I asked him if he would consider taking break from yoga for a few weeks to see if it might improve his condition. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “I’ve been doing yoga eight years and its done wonders for me. I can feel it opening me up!”

“I’m sure of that,” I replied, “but it may not be opening you up in ways your body needs.” I went on to explain that all stretching techniques may not be beneficial for all people. Yoga, for instance, often involves a lot of bending, twisting and stretching at the waist, whereas athletic magazines, like Runner’s World, Outside, Men’s Health / Women’s Health and so on tend to emphasize more the leg muscles. I told him that when he walked, I observed that his legs were quite tight, which was throwing the demands of locomotion up into hips and resulting in inflammation.

“Try this,” I suggested, “Continue doing yoga, but for two weeks limit poses that involve stretching, bending and twisting at the waist. I then gave him a few simple leg exercises to do on his own to stretch out his calves, hamstrings, hip flexors & quadriceps.  About a week later, he called to say his pain was 90% gone and wanted to reschedule his 10th session. He is now pain free.

I am no expert in stretching. I relate this story simply to show that different bodies have different needs. For some, yoga may be the answer. For others, Egoscue, Chek, Pilates or Stretch to Win programs may prove more beneficial. The trick is to not be beholden to any one discipline just because you’ve heard it’s a good program. You may have to experiment a little at first to find which programs / exercises best suit your body type, history and activities. It may seem tedious at first, but the end result could make it well worth the effort.

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Breathing Right

By James Bardot, June 1, 2015


“He who breathes partially lives partially” is an old Chinese proverb, and one that seems more relevant to us now than at any time before in human history. Even a generation or two ago, life moved at a significantly slower pace; stress levels were lower and breathing was something we simply did without thinking about it.

In the high-stress world we live in today, however, many seem to live their lives almost in a state of chronic hyperventilation. Shallow, rapid breathing can not only wreak havoc on our mental health, but provoke all sorts of physical health issues as well.

Breathing is one of the more unique systems of the body because it operates automatically via the Autonomic Nervous System, but it can also be overridden through conscious intervention.

I’ve seen more than a few clients try to force unnatural breathing patterns on themselves, thinking they can somehow outfox the body and trick it into a more optimal manner of breathing. While some can be useful, they can also become disruptive and in more extreme cases, end up creating a conflict between controlled and uncontrolled breathing patterns, leaving neither able to function optimally. Perhaps we should think twice about trying to rig a system that nature has, through millions of years of trial and error, developed into a highly optimized system.

So what are our options? I’m sure there are many, but from what I’ve observed, the best way to reestablish a deep, natural breathing pattern is to get out of the way and let the body do its thing. To do this, take a moment and close your eyes (preferably not while driving) and simply watch your breathing as a conscious but passive observer. Don’t’ try to change anything. Don’t count. Just relax. Your body really does have its own innate wisdom, so trust in it. Simply observe and give your breathing a little space and time to find its center again. And by focusing on your breathing, you also quiet much of the mental chatter that gets your breathing into trouble in the first place—a double win!

That’s it. Really. For me, I’ve found it usually takes between 5 and 10 minutes to reestablish a good rhythmical pattern again, and once established, it will usually continue for some time into your workaday world as well.

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We often look at the human body a
collection of individual parts: heart, eyes, feet, etc. But from a functional standpoint, it operates as a single, dynamic whole: when one part of the body becomes compromised, the entire structure is affected.

-  James Bardot

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