by Daphne Grech Cumbo
In the long term, walking can add many healthy years to our lives. In the shorter term, it can enhance our mood, productivity and creativity daily.
In the previous article : Walking your way into a productive day we discussed the impact of walking from a neuroscientific perspective, the link with health and longevity, and the role of walking on reducing stress and maintaining energy levels
In the second part of the series, we continue to guide you on the different aspects and benefits we can walk our way into. In this article, we discuss the bond we create with our environment through our footsteps and explore the response of our internal mechanics to the movement generated. There is also a simple exercise you can practise during your next walk to elevate your self-awareness, and we invite you to take the opportunity to discuss it!
Our geo footprint
Walking researchers have found how walkers absorb their physical surroundings and the non-physical aspects of a place through their footsteps.
Have you ever visited a city, town or place of interest perhaps by car or bus, but felt that you didn’t really experience it because you did not walk through it?
Walking scholars discuss the ways we connect with places and create geographical events through participation, by activating our situational and relational nodes through walking.
The embodiment can go even further, extending into humanitarian and social sciences. One study walks through redlined neighbourhoods in the US (where minority groups were refused or limited to loans and other financial services based solely on their geographic location). We will not delve into these studies in this blog. However, if you’re interested to read more on walking research and their projects, check out the papers and podcasts on walkinglabs.org
This quote, from one of the papers on Walking Labs, really sums up the bond we form with a place through our footsteps:
Experiencing the earth through our soles:
Walking enables us to experience the environment we’re in through our non-visual senses by embodying the ground through our soles. The different landscapes, textures, climbs and drops in the ground connect the walker to their body and their muscular response to the terrain they’re treading on. Walking is a truly holistic experience and an effective form of mindfulness practice.
You can elevate your walking experience just by being aware of the mechanics that are taking place in your body when you are walking on different terrains.
Practical Exercise: Elevating your walk
Notice how your walk changes on muddy terrain, cobbled roads, grass, uphills, descents, stairs, wet streets or on sandy beaches.
Who’s doing the work?
Take note of which muscles your body is using to accommodate your stride in relation to the terrain. You can ask yourself some questions like: Are your calves throbbing on the uphill ? Do your ankles feel steady in the sand? Do your glutes burn when you walk up the stairs? Do you curve your back when you get tired? Do you hands move rhythmically with your feet?
What does your heart say?
Is your heart rate slower or faster at different points during the walk ? You can measure it with a wearable fitness tracker or simply count or observe the approximate number of beats you feel in a minute.
In and out of breath?
You can begin by simply observing the way you breathe when you start walking. Do you breathe in through the nose or mouth and out the same way or the other? Notice if this is different to when you are not moving. You might wish to start observing your breath before you actually start to walk. When you are walking count the number of steps you take with each breath. This could change throughout the walk especially if you are treading on different terrains, picking up a pace or getting tired.
As it happened…
Acknowledge what feels good as well as any discomforts which might arise from an old injury or weaker point.
After your walk, note down your experience without judgement. You could have discovered something new about yourself or not. Unrelated feelings could have arisen. Observe your enjoyment level, the thoughts that ran through your mind. How did you feel after the walk? There are no right or wrong answers it’s simply an exercise of self-observation!
Would you like to share your thoughts with someone after this exercise? Book a free 30-minute call with Daphne here.
If you’re looking for ideas to increase the frequency of your walks that fit your schedule, look out for the next blog in this series: “Walking your way to wellbeing”