I was reminded the other day that when one is feeling stressed, out of control or general malaise it is best to take a walk. Walking seems to be up there in the top 10 tips for handling stress.
Has it always been this way for humans? Certainly when our ancestors walked it was to either find dinner or escape from being dinner. Sounds stressful to me.
Joking aside, we were designed with walking in mind for both the physiologically and psychologically benefits.
I read an interesting research article on the benefits of walking in an urban setting green space (e.g. a park). Turns out that a brief walk in an urban park can induce parasympathetic nerve activity, suppress sympathetic nerve activity, decrease the heart rate, enhance the mood state, and reduce anxiety.
Certain veterans had discovered the psychological benefits of walking in green space long before this study. In the late 1940's WWII veteran, Earl Shaffer decided to "shake the Army out of his system" by walking the Appalachian Trail in one season, all 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine. By all accounts he is the first person to do a thru-hike, completing the walk in continuous journey. These veterans have discovered the healing properties of the long journey.
Walking for a therapeutic or religious purpose is nothing new: Mecca- Saudi Arabia, Lourdes-France, the Camino de Santiago-Spain, Mount Kailash - Tibet, The Ganges River - India, Madron Well - Cornwall, England, Vaishno Devi Temple - India, Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica - Mexico City, Mexico, Naag Mandir - Fiji. I am sure the majority have found benefits in the process of walking much less any religious significance.
Walking slows the rhythm of one's day. It seems that the farthest a person could walk in a day is about 70 miles. According to reference.com at a speed of 3mph, a fit person could cover 72 miles in a 24 hour period. Of course, one has to factor in terrain, weather, stoppage, sleeping, eating, etc. Try as we might, a person would be hard pressed to cover more territory. That limitation alone helps slow us down.
Walking allows one's mind to ebb and flow with mindless thoughts and directed focus. Have you ever noticed that sometimes you might be walking along and wonder what you passed? You might be ruminating over a problem or idea and were so engaged that you mindlessly put one foot in front of the other but that was all you noticed. Then at other times, you might notice the flight of an overhead hawk, or the flame colored leaves against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky. I have found that I toggle between the two mindsets even on the same walk.
Walking helps with perspective. Because the process can only go so fast, walking does help put things into perspective. Items that were urgent don't seem so after a nice walk. The natural world has a way of putting us in our place. Compared with the majesty of trees, the vastness of the sky and even the seemingly insignificant yet completely cared for sparrow, who are we to feel that we need to be in charge?
Walking especially in a green space provides everyday beauty. As the research article noted, the green space has a way of mellowing us out. Seeing beauty sublimely reminds us to focus on those things that are significant: truth, beauty, goodness.
What about you? Do you walk? How often? Have you ever taken a walk just to cool off or as a stress reliever? Have you ever made a pilgrimage or a long walking journey? What lessons did you learn?
How are you feeling today? Do you need to take a walk?