by Cynthia M. Allen (first published at Integrative Learning Center; used by permission)
This has become a favorite phrase in the Bones for Life community. And why not? Look at the apparent ease with which the woman at left carries her load.Of course, it isn’t easy, yet studies show Luo and Kikuyu women are supremely well organized, even outperforming male U.S. soldiers with loaded rucksacks. She can carry up to 20% of her body weight on her head before she begins to need more oxygen or burn additional calories.
Carrying a Load for Free. Just to put this in context, if you weigh 150 pounds, this means you would be carrying 30 pounds. Can you imagine balancing even 20 pounds on your head and, say, walking around the block? Much less without needing additional air? Scientists call the capacity to carry this weight without needing more air “carrying for free.” In fact, she may add to her load up to 50% or more of her body weight and head into town. While her “free energy” zone has been passed, she will still carry her load at a lower metabolic cost to herself than to you or even to our beloved Army guys and gals.
Walk Like an Upside-Down Pendulum. In the 1990s gait researchers mapped the movement of the human center of mass in space and discovered the trajectory is like that of an upside-down pendulum swinging. Instead of a curve down, it curves upward with the crest being at the point when you are completely balanced on one foot and the other foot has lifted away from the ground and is swinging forward.
Rhythm Matters. In the change over between steps, most of us will lose height faster than we gain speed with a few millisecond lurch. But loaded African women pause less in the middle of the step and in fact some women do not pause at all. Another way to say it might be that the rhythm of the walk is uninterrupted.
Unfortunately we don’t have access to any video to include in this newsletter. But the grace and ease of the live motion is truly stunning to see. The beauty of such an efficient load bearing walk caught the attention of Ruthy Alon some years ago along with two other factoids of the time: West African women had low fracture rates (statistics still support the low fracture rates–see table below) and low bone densities (these studies need to be validated).
2004 Report from the World Health Organization Estimated percentage of osteoporotic fractures,in men and women aged 50 years or older, by region:
The reason Africans have significantly lower fracture rates than Americans is likely multi-variant. Climate, diet, genes, bone geometry, daily movement requirements and movement patterns are all possible, even likely,contributors. In Bones for Life® we take the position that it sure couldn’t hurt to be more active in our daily life and to move in the direction of a free energy gait pattern. Alon studied the alignment and the gait of African women, and created movement exercises in her Bones for Life® program that allow us to incorporate aspects of this unique organization as our bodies find it useful. When skeletal alignment, stability and flexibility in the curves of spine, and rhythm improve, there is less loss of energy between steps. That is, the peak moment of rest in the pendulum swing is more fully converted back into energy. You are no longer falling as you walk but remaining tall and balanced.
A Bones for Life® class is for anyone. Take it to walk with elegance and ease. Take it to improve bones and joint health. Take it Because There is No Pill for Posture.