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Walk like a nomad

  • French researcher Édouard Stiegler came across nomads in Kabul in 1980 who had walked 700 km in 12 days, crossing mountains and deserts. He wanted to understand how could walk 60km a day, apparently without signs of fatigue. He deduced that they used a breath-oriented way of walking, which consisted of a conscious walking technique that involves synchronising your breathing with your steps (light and at a moderate pace). On his return to France he developed a walking technique that he called the ‘Afghan walk’.
  • Nowadays we call it ‘the breath-aware walk’ or ‘the yogic walk’. It is more beneficial in endurance walking (in the mountains or on long routes). Also, it is almost meditative because it relieves stress and anxiety due to the focus on rhythm and breathing.
  • The theory is this, that efficient breathing allows the body to adequately oxygenate itself, thereby allowing us to walk further and without getting too tired. When we walk in rhythm with our breath or breathe in rhythm with our steps, we lengthen and slow down our breathing. Combined with good posture, rhythmic breathing makes difficult climbs and long routes less exhausting.
  • Afghan walking is not difficult but benefits from some practice. You have to breathe through your nose, to the rhythm of your steps. Then it’s a matter of experimenting with the pace that suits your stride, the terrain, and your fitness level. We should inhale through the nose for 3 steps, hold your breath for one step, and exhale through the nose for 3 steps. The 3-1:3-1 pattern is the basic technique of the Afghan march. To go uphill, the 2-2 pattern is recommended (without holding your breath). Each person will find their own rhythm; the important thing is to synchronise your breathing and steps.
  • A recent study from the University of California in the US found that mindful movement can outperform conventional physical exercise with respect to quality of life, mood, and cognitive functioning. In fact, in his book, ‘Breathing, the New Science of the Lost Art’, James Nestor talks about the benefits of breathing well (including during the Afghan march), which include: lowered blood pressure, improved immunity, denser bones and improved sleep.
  • Let’s walk with synchronised steps and breathing!

Source: 52 ways to walk: Annabel Streets – Bloomsbury Publishing