I’ve just been for a walk. Not a run. And not with a friend either, or to get the kids out of the house. I didn’t even take the dogs. It felt strange at first, only the sound of my footsteps on the tar, and my breath coming in, and then flowing out again.
Since this spasm in my lower back I’ve been trying to take it easy, and it’s been a big lesson for me. I’m geared to ACHIEVE something when I exercise, whether it’s sweating until my shirt is dripping, or running faster than last time, or stretching further than before. I think most of us are. But I’m trying to listen to what my body is telling me and lately it’s been saying PAIN and slow down, so I’ve heeded the advice.
I’ve been doing a lot of stretching. Pilates and yoga. Slow swimming. Gentle walks. After my recent transformation, this has not been easy – as I miss the cardio and the workouts, but I know I’ll be back soon. And so for today, I went for a walk.
Walking is underrated. In our perpetually busy world, we may sneer at the idea of a walk. “But don’t you want to get a workout? What’s the point of a walk? I don’t have time to go WALKING” (like it’s some sort of flighty indulgence).
My Dad has always been a walker. Wherever we are, whether he’s at home, or out somewhere new on holiday, he’ll get his walking stick and off he’ll go. In rain or shine. He walks fast too, for a 75-year-old guy. I know he does it for physical health reasons and to keep fit, but the knock on positive affect on his mental health and happiness is probably bigger than he knows.
Walking let’s you switch off. Leave your phone at home. Leave your distractions. Notice the magnolia petals like a white and yellow carpet on the pavement. Look at that blackened banana skin someone dropped. See that idyllic corner of the street, where the white walls and the yellow shutters complement the pink petals of the bougainvillea so perfectly.
Listen to the sound of those kids playing soccer on the field, their shrieks of laughter. Here comes the mist, over the mountain and oh, feel that cooling wind on my cheeks. Look at that couple walking their dog and holding hands, like they’ve loved each other for decades. Pass an open window, see people gathered around a table, hear the clink of glasses, the scrape of cutlery on plates, their low voices.
And while your mind is noticing all of these small details, all the worries and minutiae it used to be full of have dissipated, just for a little bit. It is focused, clear and calm inside there.
I’m busy reading Arianna Huffington’s Thrive and she dedicates a whole chapter to the benefits of walking. She says she came up with some of her best ideas while walking, and that she actually used to schedule walking meetings, instead of ones where people gathered around the boardroom table. “Sit still and our minds want to ramble. Get up and start walking, and our minds can slow down and be more focused,” she says.
And it’s not just her that are fans of walking. Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway and even Nietzsche used to walk and have their best ideas while doing so, according to Thrive. Henry David Thoreau used to walk to “shake off the village”, which is such a wonderful expression to me. Shake off those 43 Whatsapp messages, shake off those emails from your boss asking for things, shake off all the tiny demands that add up to a huge weight in your brain, and just for a moment, be you, in a quiet space, with trees above you – and a big blue sky.
I only walked for 25 minutes today. But I got home with a smile on my face, and suddenly felt “unblocked” creatively and then I sat down and wrote this post. Is a little blog post about walking going to change the world? No. But it’s a clear demonstration of the power of MOVEMENT, and how just a short time away from distractions, and a break from technology, can do wonders for your brain.
Try take a walk this week around your neighbourhood, even if it’s only for 20 minutes. Leave your phone at home. Breathe in, breathe out, and notice things. And tell yourself that sometimes it’s okay not to go fast. In fact, sometimes it’s very good for us to go slow.
Hope you’re all having lovely weekends.