Why opt for walking therapy?
When clients arrive, they often don’t know what they want. They do know they feel out-of-sorts. Maybe high anxiety, fear of under performing or imposter syndrome from working in the City. Feeling a failure as a mum, drinking and shopping too much, lost in a transition, having no sexual intimacy with their partner. Doing anything to avoid being with themselves. In pain. Lonely. Disconnected. Cue, walking therapy.
Today’s modern society stimulates us more than it has done in any part of our history. And our physiological systems have adapted, but not always in the right way. The human body is incredible. Keep feeding it a computer screen and it attaches to it. So many of us aren’t able to detach.
So let’s detach from the problems to uncover what lies beneath. Walking therapy is my love. Therapists are commonly taught to sit on a chair, at a certain angle, with a box of tissues, and a clock behind the client. When the hand hits 50 mins, out of the chair goes the client, often back to another room with that computer screen. The in-room therapy of course serves its purpose. But is there another way, I’d ask? I think so.
A lover of the outdoors. My biggest personal breakthroughs have come when walking. Kim Cattrall, star of Sex in the City, recently shared how walking helped her deal with the death of her brother. It’s therapeutic.
A long intense walk such as the Camino do Santiago, strips you back. In the middle of the dry plains of Spain, the Meseta, often referenced to as ‘the mind section’, leaves you with nowhere to hide. No crutch to support you. It’s you, nature, wind, rain, the beating of the sun that teaches you. A reminder that you are just a small particle in this world, with no control over what nature chooses to throw at you. Left with just your mind, and the repetition of your footsteps, feelings surface.
It doesn’t have to be huge country crossings, or the wild mountains of Patagonia to stir this up. A simple walk in a local park can evoke similar emotions. Remind you that you can indeed, free your mind.
Key Benefits to Walking Therapy
- Quietens our nervous system and balances our internal systems
- Creates space for unconscious exploration
- Repairs our brains and lowers our blood pressure, reduces inflammation and aids digestion
- Reduces depressive disorders, anxiety and stress through the release of endorphins
- Creates connection with nature
- Improves creativity and problem solving
In a recent study, Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara offers;
The experience of walking can allow you to escape yourself and this non-ego focus is healthy. We should spend more time not thinking of ourselves.
When I walk with clients, we never walk quickly. It’s about conscious walking. Where you can hear your breathe, notice the speed your body wants to go, and instead slow down and listen to the birds, the wind, the waves, the leaves underfoot and even the planes above.
How we walk and how we are in nature is very telling. Can you slow down? Why do you walk ahead of others? Do you have gratitude for the bees and birds around you? Do you stamp all over the ferns?
We walk in all weather. That in itself reveals so much about our psyche. The ability to dress for cold weather and not neglect or under-nurture our bodies. To arrive wearing heels. To be okay with sitting on a fallen tree with your new white jeans on. Whatever shows up, is there to highlight what’s really going on. And it’s great material for us to work with. It’s who we’ve known ourselves to be in the world.
Walking is not a new phenomena right. It’s not just for old people. It’s not something which stops as you get older either. It keeps us young. It keeps us spirited. Connected. It has evolutionary origins from millions of years ago. However, it’s only the more recent research in the west that reveals how the brain and nervous system performs the mechanical magic of balancing, and running out internal systems. We know it’s good for our muscles and posture. It helps unblock and repairs organs. Slow or turn back ageing of our brains. Shane says,
Think of walking as something which repairs our brains, lowers our blood pressure, aids the passage of food through our intestines, reduces inflammation and allows us to be creative and better at problem-solving. We also know from studies that people who walk a lot are less prone to depressive disorders; that walking can enhance your memory and that older people who walk more are less lonely.
Chinese medicine has always understood the benefit of moving all four limbs. Hence their regular prescription of Tai Chi and Qi Gong. The regular movement, which also happens during walking is seen to strengthen your bones and reduce stress. Improve physical balance and inner harmony, and improve mental clarity and relaxes the muscles.
With the mind in motion, we get to be more creative. When walking we often allow nature to show us solutions. It might be synchronicity of a horse stopping to go to the toilet. How in that moment, you can’t stop it. How does that relate to someone in your life? Finding something on the ground. What’s your reaction? Is that yours to pick up? Who does it belong to? Do you feel entitled? Are you looking over your shoulder to be told off.
Typically, pre and now post COVID, we walk for 60–90 mins, in the big parks in London, and allow nature to guide where and for how long. Through the trusted bond created, what’s for certain, is that clients find the space to unleash emotions, the calmness to slow down, nature to open up their hearts. We scream under trees. Hug plants. Stand with our feet in the long grass. Lie amongst the ferns. Sit on fallen trees. But some days we simply walk and talk. Whatever we feel comfortable doing.
Walking therapy is a fascinating teacher. And walking together enables the two of us to unravel the layers of unconsciousness. The behaviours and reactions engrained from childhood.
We know that all illness cannot be explained by medicine, wrote Ivan Ilyich in Limits to Medicine.
Medicine tell us as much about meaningful performance of healing, suffering and dying as chemical analysis tells us about the aesthetic value of property.
Human experience and insights are beyond certain realms. Our new field of psychoneuroimmunoendocrinology links the mind and body. The indissoluble unity of emotions and psychology in human development and throughout life in health and illness. So if emotions are being seen to have profound impacts on our body’s nervous system, the endocrine and hormonal systems then this innovative research highlights the whole-body response. And so walking and therapy combined, can only have a positive effect on the whole body response.
We must start walking again. Whether it’s with a therapist, with friends or on your own. Our lives are so very sedentary and can only increase the risks of disease to our mind, body and spirits. Trust our own intuition. Start with one the trusted one foot in front of the other.