Who knew? Walking can deliver many benefits!
How walking can improve your life.
The human body is made to walk. Our ancestors, in a daily search for the necessities of life (such as gathering, hunting or finding safe water), walked several miles each day. There were annual migrations to places more hospitable as the yearly climate changed, or trading trips, trips for the purpose of gathering with related tribes for rituals or visiting sacred spots on spiritual quests. In medieval Europe people would walk hundreds of miles on pilgrimages to shrines and holy places.
Walking can be more than just something we must do to reduce our weight or manage our blood sugar (both very good reasons - but there is more).
There are profound psychological benefits to walking. It reduces the effects of stress hormones and walkers report enhanced self-esteem, reduced anxiety and depression. A brisk 20- to 30-minute walk can have the same calming effect as a mild tranquilizer. This may be attributed to endorphins – brain chemicals that deliver a sense of well-being and reduced sensation of pain.
Many of the benefits of walking come from practicing mindfulness as you walk. With this combination of walking meditation and exercise the stress busting aspects are increased.
Cardiologist James Rippe, MD conducted a study where a group was instructed to walk at a low-intensity pace and practice a simple meditation technique while exercising. All they had to do was pay attention to their footsteps, counting "one, two, one, two" and visualizing each number in their minds as they went along. If they found their thoughts drifting to other matters, they simply said, "Oh, well" and resumed counting their footsteps.
There were control groups - one that simply ambled along with wandering thoughts (as most of us do) and another group that use the "push yourself" philosophy and power walked throughout the study.
To the surprise of many, the group that benefited the most was the walking meditation group.
Alternatives to counting can be:
- Focusing on each breath with a view to gently expanding and deepening it. Take pleasure in each breath.
- Breath in the beauty of your surroundings – even walking in the rain can be a joyous experience. Be as aware as you can of all the details of earth and sky, plant and creatures around you.
- Vary your walking path – have a number of choices for routes, change direction.
- Visualize yourself energized and at peace as you set out to walk
May you walk in joy.