Living a modern sedentary lifestyle glued to a screen rebels against our very human nature that is designed from the dawn of mankind to walk. Homo Sapiens has populated the planet walking, which is today one of the most underrated, yet most effective ways of keeping body, mind, and soul healthy.
A body of research has meanwhile confirmed the many positive effects only a moderate amount of walking per day can positively impact your health.
The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which has been tracking the health behaviors of more than 200,000 women for more than three decades, has revealed that walking for an average of 30 minutes a day can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes by 30 to 40 percent.
Walking at this rate can also lower the risk of breast cancer by 20 to 30 percent.
A 2018 study by UCLA researchers has found that a sedentary lifestyle is also bad for mental health.
The researchers did brain scans of 35 people aged 45 to 75, finding that those who sat the most had more thinning in an area of the brain involved with memory, a change that may be linked to cognitive decline and dementia.
Living a sedentary lifestyle surrounded by things created by the “head mind” will never make you feel the same sense of aliveness and awareness that you will feel through the intuitive “heart-mind” when walking in nature. The universe, or God, finds expression through nature.
In my latest “Living to BE” podcast I discussed with my pilgrim friend Kevin Considine the many life lessons deep pilgrimage walking has to offer. Kevin has walked more than 14,000 kilometers on ancient pilgrimage paths since he retired eight years ago.
Scientists have found that exposure to blue spaces such as lakes, rivers, and the sea are particularly beneficial to mental health.
A team from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) undertook the first international review of 35 studies on “blue spaces.” They concluded that outdoor blue spaces not only reduce stress levels, but also improve general well-being.
The difference between a hike and a deep-walking pilgrimage experience
One of the most popular paths is the Camino de Santiago in northwestern Spain, which has been traversed by pilgrims for centuries. In recent years, it has been rediscovered by tens of thousands of people from all walks of life as a path of healing and self-discovery.
Some of the world’s most creative and talented artists, including Johann Sebastian Bach, William Blake, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau explored their inner worlds on long walks, acutely aware of the positive effects in opening the senses to nature.
The conservationist John Muir, tormented by nightmares and anxiety after nearly going blind in a work accident, immersed himself in nature on a 1,000-mile journey on foot from the banks of the Ohio River to the Gulf of Mexico.
On my first pilgrimage walk to Santiago, I too was tormented by a dysfunctional relationship, a stressed-out job and childhood trauma that I had suppressed for many years. Any amount of therapy did not have the same effect as facing those inner demons on long, lonely walks of solitude in nature. I have described in detail my journey in my two books: Walking on Edge and Deep Walking for Body, Mind and Soul.
Experiential spirituality at its best
The universe speaks to us in many ways but nowhere more than with such clarity when body, mind, and soul are completely immersed in nature and not distracted by the pull of countless things in our daily, modern lives. It is experiential spirituality at its best.
A particular fascination with the Camino de Santiago in northwestern Spain is that these ancient pilgrimage paths have been walked by pilgrims for many centuries. It is marked by numerous crosses and symbols left by the pilgrims of old, many of whom did not survive the long trip. I would concur with my pilgrim friend Kevin that the route is filled with the spirits of pilgrims who have gone before, who guide us on the way.
Many a person has started the more than 800-kilometer walk from Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela as a hiking or sporting endeavor but ended the walk as a pilgrim. It is a part of the Camino mystery. It has a different impact on every individual, awakening channels to the soul that you had never dreamed possible.
Reino Gevers – Author – Mentor – Speaker
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