Walking in Rhythm

Does the music you are listening to affect your walking style? Do you walk better with some people than others?

I walk a lot and often with an ipod plugged into my earphones. I’ve noticed that my walking style (pace, stride, etc.) are greatly influenced by the music track I am listening to. I have also been noticing that I walk better with some people than others, as if the rhythm of our movements was strengthening or hampering interpersonal chemistry. I was especially sensitive about this when I was dating. It added to the something does/doesn’t feel right feeling about the other person. If I am walking with someone, I try to match my walking characteristics to that of the other person, almost as a reflex, sometimes taking fast, smaller steps, and sometimes taking large, slower steps. But there is always a time when walking with someone is not smooth.

Personally, I have analyzed the origins of this behavior and it probably has something to do with the sense of rhythm programmed into me. Being a musician, counting the beats and perfectly maintaining gaps during improvisation is a skill that’s necessary, not just a good-to-have thing, especially in the mathematical progressions of Indian classical music, – as I’m told. After few years of practise, the task of measuring the beats and playing on-beat or off-beat becomes a task that’s relegated to one’s reflexes and my active brain is now focused exclusively on coming up with something to play next. So when I am walking with someone, or listening to music, I have this obsession of aligning my walking rhythm to the external rhythm that’s “given” to me. And if that doesn’t work, I get frustrated.

For example, last night I was listening to “With or Without You” (U2) while walking to the grocery store. I listen to that kind of music (i.e. western) on my regularly-irregular morning runs, and it works perfectly well because for every beat on U2′s drums, I have 2 steps of mine (1:2 ratio). Last night however, I was trying to match my walking to the music but those 3-something minutes were very uncomfortable because the beats were too slow no matter how large strides I took.

Then there are people who walk in a disorganized manner. Slow, fast, slow again, big steps, small steps…. what the hell! Obviously, we will never have a second date (unless they are terribly cute). ;-)

Maybe rhythmic walking could be used as a therapy: Just like watching a goldfish helps heart patients, walking in the rhythm of certain music might help people since it combines discipline and exercise. Coupled with synchronised breathing, I feel that rhythmic walking is a great way to make a trip to the grocery store really productive.

16 thoughts on “Walking in Rhythm

  1. Hi Puku,

    I posted my comments earlier on this blog, but it didn’t reflrct. Any way, once again, but may not be same.

    I enjoyed reading & I fully agree to your views.

    one of my friend used to say, ‘Har Kutte ki ek chal hoti hai’ & that is true.
    Have you ever seen a dog walking lazily? or off beat? I didn’t.

    but a CAT? it never walks in thythum. but then it’s a ‘cunning’ animal.

    A diversion, but, walking with some one, as you said, when you are/were dating ”It added to the something does/doesn’t feel right feeling about the other person” that I think is the ‘cunning’ nature, to vary the step or pace randomly.

    You see the Horse or the bulls pulling a cart, in India a ‘Bail gadi” how rhythmetic they are?

    I think there is a basic diference in the walk of a harbivorus & a Carnivorus. Human race being the exception….

    • Hi dad, thanks for the comments! I don’t know if it was their cunning nature or simply some nervousness, but you bring a very important point about the rhythm in nature. Its everywhere around us. :)

  2. Nice post. Rhythm is “in our blood”, or it isn’t. I perfectly identify with you about all this.

    Another thing I was reminded of is my life in Mumbai traveling via suburban trains every day. I always used to sync my steps with that of the noise of the train. This used to be a mindless but entertaining pastime when trains used to arrive or depart in a station. :)

  3. do take care of your ears as listening to music using headphones for long periods of time can be injurious to health.

    On walking in rhythm and rhythm in nature … i found ur post and comment quite interesting. What do u think about the chaos theory then?

    • Hi prax,
      Chaos theory is not as chaotic as the name might suggest, it is fully deterministic. The distinguishing thing about it compared to equilibrium systems (such as walking described above) is that the dynamic state has different start and end points. The only way one can compare it to walking is if you start with slow walking, then start walking faster, then jog, then run and then run fast. In that case, music (with fixed beats) is useless because the whole definition of chaotic system is that it is not regular.

      Runners (who vary speed), sprinters etc might behave like that, and I have seldom seen them listening to music, because it makes no sense. There is one thing I’ve noticed though: people on treadmills in a gym. They start slow and increase their pace gradually, while listening to music. I tried, but I could never do that – the music doesn’t sync with my movements… :)

  4. Priyank, I too like to walk in a rhythm and I am not a musician. Sure, I am fond of music and in fact I “use” music a lot in my daily activities, while doing other things. I too try and match my pace with that of the other person but often fail as I am not a super fast walker and find that most people I know walk superfast! In the gym I can only work out if there is music. My speed depends on it.

  5. U2… you have good musical tastes ;-)

    I don’t usually listen to music when I walk (traffic is too crazy downtown I find, I need my ears, especially for cars that turn right at the red light… when I’m crossing).

    But I can see how it can influence one’s walking!

    • Yeah that’s cool right! I used to ride my bike while playing music in India, but here, car drivers are not trained enough, so I am scared to do that! Weird, isn’t it?

  6. I can completely relate to what you have written. Since I don’t have a mp3 player now, I don’t listen to music while walking but in places, like malls, where there is music playing in the background, my walking rhythm automatically synchronizes with the rhythm of the music. And i really enjoy walking in the rhythm once i realise that. But its irritating if i’m not able to match my walking with a song n then i start walking in an awkward manner. till i get my mind off the music n think about something else. Also, when i’m walking alone, most of the time there is some or the other song going on in my mind which does influence my walking or may be my brain just selects a song to match my walking rhythm ‘coz I never have to take an effort to match that rhythm.

    • Hi Prachi, nice to see your comment here. It is funny how everyone adapts to walking and music in their own way! In a shopping mall for example, I usually switch off my music because their music is too loud. :)

  7. Priyank this is some interesting point you made. You know there goes another topic, having conversation with someone, listening and tuning to their type of talk. I have seen my husband do it all the time, and I can see why people get along with him, lol. But you know sometimes I have to tell him, what are you – a woman, lol. Kidding aside, I don’t like anything in my ears, plus I really enjoy the nature sounds too, so my walk is always various. There are times that I run, and this is usually because I saw a brid. Priyank thanks for heads up, that was one interesting point. Anna :)

    • Your husband has some good quality for sure!! See now I am jealous. You live close to woods, close to woods and birds whereas I live right in the city, away from trees… :(

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