Health & Fitness

Walking for Sanity’s Sake

Written by Jennifer Reed

The Halloween decorations have been taken down, the greasy face paint wiped off, and though strands of Dollar Store cobwebs might still be clinging to the occasional bush, I have begun to notice the twinkling lights of Christmas popping up in various drug stores, apartment windows and gracing the lawns of the overzealous holiday fans. The holiday season is upon us and before you know it, the Movember Moustache is going to morph into the full beard of Father Christmas. And there is no denying that with that comes the annual winter influx of stress, celebration, crazy families, bad sweaters, good food and copious amounts of mulled wine and eggnog.

So before you spend the entire month eating, drinking and being merry only to be overcome with gluttonous guilt just in time to make a New Year’s resolution that won’t stick, why not start to form some good habits before it’s too late?

I’m not about to suggest some crazy workout regimen guaranteed to “pump you up” or that you make a personal appointment with Richard Simmons. What I’m suggesting requires minimal investment, for most of us are, in fact, the 99 percent. Tie up a pair of sneaks and get walkin’. That’s right. Left…left…left-right-left. Walk.

Just 30 minutes of brisk walking three to five times a week can work wonders. Walking can improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, strengthen your bones and reduce stress. Did you know that more than half of the body’s muscles were designed for walking? And though I’m not dissing the hip swaying, arm pumping gait of speed-walking, Lululemon-toting mommies pushing four-wheel drive strollers down the sidewalk, the kind of walking I’m suggesting might just be the thing you need to get you through Uncle Bob’s intoxicated holiday incantation of the war days (though the only war he ever participated in was waged with a deck of cards.)

Walking, aside from the obvious health benefits, can also be an excellent way to meditate. A way to decompress and de-stress. By tuning your awareness to every aspect of your locomotion, you can actually start to calm and center the mind. Consider the man that walks down the street with arms clasped behind his back. How he moves thoughtfully, with deliberate steps and a contemplative brow.

Here are some points to focus on:

  • Pay attention to each step, how your heel makes contact with the ground and rolls toward the ball of your foot before you press your toes down and push off. Do your ankles pronate or supinate? Where does one step end and another begin?
  • Notice in your body if you initiate motion from the hip or from the knee and how it affects your gait if you change that initiation. Are you walking upright, with shoulders back and relaxed, arms swinging loosely at your sides? Or are you tight, rigid, bent over, tight in the hamstrings, the ankles, the hips or the knees?
  • And what about the breath? Do you breathe deep into the belly or is your breath shallow, residing in the top part of your lungs? Are you breathing in through the nostrils or through the mouth? How does the air smell and feel? Is there a rhythm to your breath that coincides with your steps?

By becoming aware of these little, seemingly insignificant, details without judgment or opinion, it becomes easier to let the bigger details of our lives melt away. By focusing on the body and the breath, we tune into the present moment and notice what is simply before us. So perhaps the leaves on the trees seem a little clearer, sharper in your gaze. Perhaps you notice the cold air refreshing your thirsty lungs or the way your exhaled breath leaves little foggy clouds in the snow speckled sky. Perhaps your 1001-item to-do list before Aunt Peggy comes to pinch your cheek and give you embarrassing underwear has receded to the back corners of your mind, and for brief moments you are able to delight in the lights, the cold, the community and the true spirit of the holidays. And perhaps because you are calm, relaxed and centered you are actually more tolerant of that pinch, more attentive when Uncle Bob lifts up his shirt to show you his “bullet wounds” (ahem, mole removal).

During my yoga teacher training, we were asked to, in single file, take five FULLminutes to walk in a circle. I remember shuffling behind the person in front of me, getting pissed off and annoyed because they were going too slow, imagining shoving them out of the way to just cut through the center and get to the other side. Let’s get on with it, shall we? Walking slow is almost impossible for me. I probably should have a strap attached to my back to reign me in when I really get going — maybe one of those little backpack leash thingies. But occasionally there are moments when the walk is about the walk and not the destination. Moments when I remember to slow down, breathe deep and look up.

So get a leg-up (and then a leg-up and a leg-up) on the New Year’s exercise resolution, and walk into your holidays with style, calm and grace. More than likely you’ll be asked to shuffle along in some form of a line this holiday season, so try to practice awareness and invoke patience. Please don’t push. Invite Uncle Bob and Aunt Peggy out for a walk with you, and see if you notice a difference in your family dynamic. And maybe, just maybe, you will continue to walk your way through winter, into the warm winds of spring and beyond.

About the author

Jennifer Reed

Jennifer Reed is no stranger to movement. Born in California, raised in Washington state, and having traversed the country from West Coast to East more times that she cares to remember, she ended up in Montreal, Quebec.

So it is no big surprise that this ex-ballet dancer ended up as a yoga teacher. While getting her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Arts at Concordia University, Jennifer discovered Moksha Yoga, an accessible form of yoga practiced in a heated room.

Jennifer completed her yoga teacher training in Brazil in January 2011. It was during this adventure and the three months travelling through Central America afterwards that this life-long bookworm discovered she liked to write. Her acclaimed blog, Memoirs of a Downward Facing Dog, tells the story of that transformative journey and beyond.

Jennifer continues to write about her experiences as a traveling yogi and hopes to inspire people by sharing the lowdown dirty truths of the high points, pitfalls and sometimes altogether embarrassing aspects of that journey.