One of the first observations Eric made when analyzing my walk was that my stomach muscles were not engaging. I've heard "Let your fingers do the walking," but "Let your belly do the walking?"
Many muscles, not just leg muscles, play a role in walking. I was engaging only the powerful quadriceps on top of my thigh to swing my leg forward from the hip. Eric wanted me instead to tighten my abdominal muscles and use them to help lift my leg forward.
At first the abdominals on my affected side would not engage. To "turn them on," Eric sat me in a chair and told me to exhale as if I were blowing up a balloon. Once I could force no more air out, I froze my belly muscles in that tight position and held it as long as I could. No sit-ups, no crunches, but I broke a sweat.
My abdominals now remembered what it felt like to work and had been given permission to do so. I practiced walking, using my abs to help lift my leg, which no longer felt as heavy as when I had been swinging it. Over time, my abdominal muscles began to flatten instead of bulging uselessly on the affected side.
Now we're working on my back muscles, which need to help stabilize me when walking. This has proven especially challenging because of a lower back problem that preexists my stroke. Apparently, I have been misusing my abs and back muscles for years. Now that I'm addressing the core issues, my back pain has changed; it's no longer a spike in the hip joint, but a soreness in the hip muscle – like after a good work-out.
I think I'm learning to walk properly for the first time in my life.