Walking is more than just exercise. It’s a part of our day we set aside to think and shed the stress of busy lives. So why not join a growing movement and take its relaxing aspects to the next level? Walk a labyrinth.
It’s not a maze
First thing’s first: You can’t get lost in a labyrinth. It doesn’t involve hedges, dead ends or obstacles; it’s not a maze. Instead, there’s only one path, often marked only by paint or stones, that winds toward the centre of a pattern. To leave the labyrinth, you follow the same path that you walked to get in.
It’s a form of meditation
Labyrinths even have some of the same health benefits as meditation. Studies done by Herbert Benson, an associate professor at the Harvard Medical School and director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, show that walking a labyrinth can lower your blood pressure, help insomnia and promote fertility. But what you’ll notice immediately is how walking a labyrinth relaxes you. The clear, winding path encourages you to notice the repetition of your steps and your breathing. Essentially, it encourages a state of meditation. “I think this kind of meditation helps because it gives the body something to do while the mind is thinking about other things,” says Holly Nelson–Becker, a University of Kansas professor who teaches meditation as a way for social workers to overcome emotional fatigue.
It’s easy, even for beginners
You can walk it any way you like – you’ll figure out what’s best for you. “Some people just walk it with no expectations. And if you’re a beginner, that’s probably the best way to do it,” says Diana Ng of Minerva Innovations Consultancy, who built a labyrinth in partnership with the city of Surrey, BC. Typically, there are three phases to walking a labyrinth: release, receive and return. As you enter, stop and try to clear your mind by focusing on the moment. Open yourself up to the environment surroundings as you walk to the centre. Pay attention to the movement of your legs, the clothes pressing against your skin, the smell of the air, and accept whatever it brings to mind. Stop at the centre and continue this for as long as you like. On the way out, reflect on your life outside the labyrinth in light of what you just experienced. Your experience will partly depend on what you’d like to get out of it. Some people go in with a question in mind. Others will use it simply as a chance to reflect and unwind.
It’s pretty commonplace
You can often find labyrinths near churches, parks or health-care facilities. Labyrinthlocator.com has an extensive list and can pinpoint the closest one based on your address, postal code or city.