Take a Walk, for Your Sanity's Sake

Every Wednesday morning, I walk to therapy. And while my therapist is great, sometimes I think the 45 minute walk to her office is just as therapeutic as the 45 minutes we spend together.

You might be skeptical, thinking: Really? Taking a walk is as therapeutic as talking to a trained professional? I’ll explain.

If I’m in a rush, I’ll put on music and think about the topics I want to address with her when I arrive. Walking gives me time away from my screens — away from email and messages and social media — to really think about the things that pile up in my brain during the busier parts of my day. It’s 45 minutes to organize my thoughts before parsing them apart in therapy.

But if I leave the house with time to spare (which, let’s be real, is rare), I like to take the time to wander and explore. Sometimes I take a slightly different route, just to see what there is to see, and sometimes I’ll just try to be more observant of routes I’m already familiar with. For example, the other day on my walk I discovered a picture-perfect flower shop that had been hiding down a side street I’d walked by but never explored; ripe figs and oranges literally falling from the trees; and a piece of garbage laid across the street that said, “This is where your journey begins.”

They’re small things, but they’re also wonderful, and taking the time to notice them is a form of mindfulness that my fast-paced brain can actually practice: I’m rubbish at meditating and can only sometimes get into that breath-focused state during yoga. But when I’m walking, I can feel all of the little anxiety streams in my brain shuffle into place. They don’t stop flowing — but they do start flowing together.

Kenneth Graham, author of the famous children’s book, The Wind in the Willows, wrote about this exact phenomenon in his own essay about walking.

“Nature’s particular gift to the walker, through the semi-mechanical act of walking — a gift no other form of exercise seems to transmit in the same high degree — is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe — certainly creative and suprasensitive, until at last it really seems to be outside of you and as if it were talking to you whilst you are talking back to it.”

And while Graham’s walks were in nature and mine are down the streets of San Francisco, I don’t think that the location of the walk matters as much as the acts of walking and observing themselves. So carve out some time and try it. Take a walk. Then take another one. You might be surprised at just how therapeutic it really is.

by Emma McGowan

It's JANUARY,
stay warm.

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