Solvitur ambulando – It is solved by walking.
As the story goes, the Greek philosopher Zeno concluded, using logic, that motion was an illusion (one of Zeno’s Paradoxes). When Diogenes the Cynic heard this he reportedly responded without speaking, simply standing up and walking away to show that motion did, in fact, exist. The Latin phrase solvitur ambulando, translated as “it is solved by walking” and attributed to St. Augustine, has come to refer to a problem that can be solved by a practical demonstration.
I’m intrigued by this phrase for two reasons.
First, the above definition (a problem that can be solved by a practical demonstration) reminds me to stay grounded in the practical applications of theory and philosophy. I love big ideas and huge questions, but often, what my life needs is the practical outcome of those big ideas and questions. F.M. Alexander was by all accounts a person who put practice first, and only afterwards, worked out the theory. The method he originated, which became known as the Alexander Technique, is a fundamentally practical work that addresses practical issues with practical solutions: Can we choose our responses to the stimuli of living? Yes – by creating a little space between any stimulus and our response. How can we be poised and balanced in our whole selves – body + mind – to be free of habit and preconceived ideas, and be present and open to the possibilities in around us? The answers to these questions are not purely philosophical, but practical. The solution is in how I sit, how I type, how I breathe, how I rest, how I walk.
This brings me to the surface meaning of the phrase: “It is solved by walking.” I know that I feel my best on the days I teach Alexander Technique, because I really pay attention to how I use my whole self. I’m both deliberate and free in my movements and in my thinking. I have to be, if I want to be effective in my teaching! A good saunter in the woods (or, when possible, near water) makes things better, no matter how I’m feeling. (A day when I get to teach the Technique AND go for a walk is the best!) I also love going to a yoga class, or doing yoga on my own at home if I’m feeling short on time. You don’t have to be in a special setting, either – just a lap around your neighborhood, or even your office building, can do the trick! I vividly remember taking a walk one afternoon during my Alexander Technique teacher training, when I felt absolutely at one and integrated in my movement. It was pure bliss, just to walk down a sidewalk past some university buildings, letting myself flow through coordinated, buoyant walking, without analysis or judgment.
But sometimes, I forget how good it can feel to simply move, with ease and with love for myself in however I am in my movement that day. I can let myself sink into over-thinking or ruminating on a problem, get stuck on social media or doing work on the computer when a good walk would probably move me through whatever the matter is. Remember, body and mind are a unity – they’re the same thing. How you move your body IS how you move your mind. Don’t get “stuck” in your thoughts by being “stuck” in your movements.
In what ways do you like to move? Do you like slow walks, fast hikes, cycling, silly dancing in your kitchen, running, hula hooping, yoga, lifting weights, raking leaves, sweeping a floor, folding laundry? You don’t have to walk, or do yoga, but moving in whatever ways your body likes to move, with ease and self-love, can work wonders.
You can try this experiment if you like:
Stand or sit in a free, buoyant, ease stance.
Notice the air on the surface of you – all the air that touches your skin or clothing. Don’t forget under your feet, above your head, between your arms and torso, in front of you, behind you…
Now imagine that sense of air one inch out from your skin. Then two inches out. Then four. Then twelve.
What do you notice?
Now keep that sense of air/space and begin moving. You can walk, sway your hips, bend your knees, swing your arms, whatever you like.
Now ‘drop’ the sense of air/space. Forget the space around you. How does your movement change?
When you like, bring the air/space back, either all at once, or building out from the surface of your skin. Stop moving externally if you need to, to keep things easy, but notice that just breathing, or standing, or sitting contains dynamic movement. Continue playing with decreasing and increasing the sense of space around you as you choose to move.
What do you notice? How playful can you let it be?
I’d love to hear what you observe in yourself and in your moving when you try this experiment!