and if I need a rhythm
it’ll be to my heart I listen
– Róisín Murphy, Ramalama (Bang Bang)
Until my body started to change as a result of consistent therapy, I had a very recognizable body and way of walking. People would say to me, ‘I saw you downtown’ and I hated it. I hated that I didn’t blend into a crowd unnoticed. I hated that my body was different from everyone else. I just wanted – more than anything – to be normal. When I moved to Toronto, I finally had some anonymity, partially because I didn’t know that many people in Toronto and partially because I finally lived in a big city. People didn’t look at me and people didn’t pay attention to me. I loved being alone and faceless and practically invisible regardless of the state of my walk and my posture and my balance. I felt that my disability didn’t define me because people didn’t recognize me on account of it.
At Karen’s recommendation, I bought walking poles to help normalize my gait pattern. People typically use poles to help them when mountain-climbing or otherwise navigating steep terrain. The poles help to stabilize and balance the body in otherwise unstable situations. My condition makes me unstable, and I trusted Karen when she assured me that the poles would give me stability and help me build stability independent of using them. They would improve the rhythm and fluidity of my walk and – at the same time – make walking more challenging (in a positive way) so that I would improve.
I used them when I walked to and from physiotherapy and they made the walk a workout. I would often arrive at physiotherapy already tired from the forty five minute walk because the poles added physical exertion to my routine and helped in training my brain to make my body move differently. I also had to focus when using the poles so that I moved them in the correctly rhythm with my body, which aided in re-patterning my brain and breaking the wired-in neurological habits that caused my body to move in the wrong way. The poles helped my body to move in the right way.
My walking poles also attracted attention. When I used the walking poles in public, people started looking at me in a way they didn’t when I hadn’t used them. People didn’t ask me why I used them, but I could see on their faces that they were curious as to why I was walking with poles. I disliked the attention, but I understood where it came from and I understood that it wasn’t maliciously intended. It was an adjustment to get that sort of attention after enjoying anonymity for so many months.
Walking poles are worth the investment because the benefits are immediately evident in the user’s improved cardiovascular health, better balance, and stronger gait. Walking with them for a long time almost feels the same as going for a light run because of the accelerated physical exertion and the fluidity of the motion once the rhythm is established. The transition in the user’s walk is instantly apparent to the person using the poles and to anyone watching. They shift and transform the body in a positive and effective way.