By Jamuna Rangachari
The simple act of walking can lead to tremendous benefits of the body, mind and spirit when practiced regularly and consistently
As a child, my friends and I used to count mynas while walking around the garden; ‘one for sorrow’, ‘two for joy’, ‘three for letters’ and so on. We actually never really believed any of it, but walking while keeping a lookout for the birds became a regular pastime. There was no destination to reach, no target to achieve, no compulsion to continue. Still, walk we did; and ended up walking many miles without realizing it, the entire exercise making us pleasantly tired, happy and joyful, for it was the perfect kind of walk – with no destination, no target and no real-time constraints.
With adulthood, time constraints and focus on the number of laps may have crept in, but the walk remains one of my favorite pastimes. Happily, I am not in a minority here. “No matter what the schedule, I make sure I don’t miss my walk,” says Vasanta Damodaran, a government official in Bangalore. “My daily walk is the tonic that I never fail to take,” says Lata Vijaymani, a teacher in Mumbai who walks for a full hour every day, and has been able to cope wonderfully with her arthritis, as a result.
Indeed, walking is perhaps the best fitness mantra for people of all ages.
Walk to Complete Health
Major General Khullar, a cancer survivor in his 80s, is still leading an active life and avers that one of the secrets of his health is an hour’s walk every day.
It has been seen that people who suffer from arthritis and do not walk regularly are twice as likely to lose their mobility as those who make it a part of their routine.
Regular walks can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, strokes, diabetes, high blood pressure, bowel cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and arthritis, to mention just a few ailments. What’s more, walking minimizes the risk of joint pains or aches that other forms of exercise like running are likely to cause.
Walking is also a great antidote to stress, anxiety and depression. Not surprising at all, for endorphin, a natural painkiller and relaxant, is released into our bloodstream every time we take a walk – inducing a feeling of well-being and positivist.
Researchers at America’s Duke University found that three brisk 30-minute walks every week had greater effects on reducing depression than antidepressant drugs. In a separate study at the University of Texas, USA, a half-hour walk was shown to provide an instant lift for the moderately depressed, giving them the same sort of pick-me-up they might normally get from cigarettes, coffee or binge-eating. Stress and anxiety are tackled at both the body and mind level. While on one hand, walks allow the mind to clear up its thoughts, stress headaches that are caused by tension in the muscles of the neck and head are often alleviated through short, brisk walks as they ease the tension in the muscles.
Above all, general fitness is certainly enhanced. For one, walking not only increases one’s metabolism but helps control one’s appetite. Further, it improves the flexibility of joints and muscles as well as building strength in bones and muscles. In short, the more you walk, the more your energy, and the more your energy, the better you will feel.
Time to Walk
Although a walk at any time is good, anyone who has taken the trouble of getting out of bed in the early hours of the morning would know how tremendously rewarding a morning walk can be. “Walking in the early hours of the morning is tremendously beneficial. Never ever skip your morning walk no matter what other form of exercise you do,” says Dr Salila Tiwari, a leading naturopath who runs the Yoga Shakti Ashram in Delhi. By walking in the morning, your entire system is recharged and rejuvenated with fresh oxygen. The principle is indeed soundly scientific. For, ground-level ozone is the major part of air pollution in modern times. Ground-level ozone is created when engine and fuel gases already released into the air interact with the sunlight that hits them. We cannot really change the world around us. However, what we can do is to be the early bird and beat the pollution around us to the extent possible.
Connecting to One’s Inner Self
When a traveler asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered, “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.”
Walking is to creativity what planning is to management. The combined effect of bonding with nature and the moderate physical exercise leads to a stillness of the mind which is the starting point of all creative endeavors and, by extension, of spirituality, too.
The Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, avers in his teachings that meditating while walking can bring you great joy and peace while you practise it. “Take short steps in complete relaxation, go slowly with a smile on your lips, with your heart open to an experience of peace,” he says, adding that all sorrows and worries will drop away while one is walking with a degree of mindfulness and a true intention to be happy.
Labyrinths, an ancient symbol in many ancient cultures of wholeness, represent a journey to our own centre and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools; a labyrinth walk is the equivalent of one’s spiritual quest.
Reflective of its core philosophy of nonviolence and ecological responsibility, the Jain monks recognize only walking as the approved form of mobility for it puts the least amount of pressure on the earth’s resources.
Traditionally, reaching the destination by foot was one of the essential principles of pilgrimages, the journey being considered as important as the destination. An example is the Pandharpur pilgrimage taken by Varkaris in Maharashtra. As they march on foot to Pandharpur, the Varkaris chant and sing the Lord’s name all the way, enjoying the hospitality of householders living along the route, who consider it their privilege to feed them.
One cannot imagine the Dandi march being so successful had it been anything other than a march on foot. The combination of salt, a commodity that everyone related to, with walking, a mode of travel that was accessible to all, was a potent mix. Indeed, Mahatma Gandhi and then Acharya Vinoba Bhave, effected great change by raising the act of walking to the level of a stirring statement: Mahatma Gandhi through the Dandi march and Vinoba Bhave through the Bhoodan movement.
Isn’t it time we all adopted this non-fussy, uncomplicated way to complete well-being?
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