Oct 16, 2020, 22:20 IST

Walking Yatra

Add to Spiritual Diary

Walking is therapy, says JONO LINEEN, curator, National Museum of Australia, who has solo-trekked 2,700 km across the Himalayas. At the Khushwant Singh LitFest held recently, LINEEN says to NARAYANI GANESH that it was a cathartic experience; it helped him make peace with his kid brother’s tragic death in a boating accident in Canada

Canberra: Every day I head out my back gate for a walk in the nature reserve behind our house. I love those strolls, the movement, the thinking, the inspiration of the Australian bush. What has surprised me since the implementation of social isolation policies is how many more people I see out walking the local trails and I hear it’s the same in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth; millions of people choosing to go for a walk. As a researcher into the psychological benefits of walking, this excites me because I know that walking has physically and mentally helped so many people move through this unprecedented crisis.

In these awful times of Covid, I think that the simple act of walking can offer everyone a way to help make sense of the strange world we find ourselves in.

I spent eight years living in the Indian Himalayas, mainly Ladakh and HP, and the highlight of my time in the mountains was a five-month, 2,700km solo trek from Pakistan to Nepal.

The truth is that Homo sapiens have always been walkers; it’s an integral part of our evolution; it’s a key to what makes us human; the relationship between walking and creative thinking is one of the reasons why human beings have become the dominant species on earth. And I believe this connection between thinking and movement is one of the main reasons why so many more people are choosing to go for a walk in this time of great stress.

Now, slowly and tentatively, we’re coming out of the heightened fear that accompanied the rise of Covid-19 infections and into a long period of uncertainty around what happens before a vaccine is created. People are tense and we need strategies to help come to terms with the ambiguity of the moment we’re in. I believe, more than ever, that walking can assist people in adapting to this difficult situation and that’s because:

1 Walking gives us a sense of control: In uncertain times we want control over our lives. For four million years, as ancestors of nomads, the way we traditionally have done that is to go for a walk. Walking was how we gathered food and water and gained intimate knowledge of our environment that let us manage it for our own benefit. Even now, by going for a walk, we trigger those same deep-seeded feelings. By putting one foot in front of the other we become active, we are not passively waiting for things to happen to us, we are initiating action and making the world work for us. Walking is the simplest way to achieve that feeling of control.

2 Walking reduces stress: Clinical psychologist and neuroscientist Stan Rodski has said, “If I were to summarise all of my learning over 40 odd years, I’d say that most people’s stress starts with the complaint: I don’t have enough time.” Walking reduces stress by changing our relationship with time in three ways:

Firstly, it increases the flow in the brain of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, anandamine and norepinephrine and these help create a more open and spacious mindset.

Secondly, walking lowers our brain wave frequency from the beta region to the high theta range — the theta wave, between 5 to 10 Hz, is the frequency we enter when we are meditating. Again, this encourages an expansive mindset.

Thirdly, after 30 to 40 minutes of walking, the activity of our prefrontal cortex starts to slow down and we drop into the flow state — also known as the zone or transient hypofrontality. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the world leader in flow research,? noted through over 8,000 interviews with highly successful people that the vast majority of them observed how when they entered flow they lost their sense of self — but also their sense of time.

3 Walking increases empathy: Knowing we are not alone in a difficult situation makes us feel more empowered — there’s strength in numbers. We like to feel we are not the only ones facing a crisis. We can have compassion for those who are suffering from the effects of Covid-19 and simultaneously a deep respect for the healthcare professionals putting their lives on the line. And the way we connect with those individuals is through empathy and walking stimulates empathy. This is because when we walk, we activate the right supramarginal gyrus, this is the part of the brain involved in proprioception — our ability to understand where we are in space — without it we would randomly bump into objects and have no ability to navigate. But the supramarginal gyrus is also the part of the brain activated when we empathise with others. Walking increases our empathy and during a time of great challenges we are reminded that we’re all in this together and we’ll come through it as a community.

4 Walking instils confidence and joy: Have you ever been on a stroll where you didn’t feel better at the end of it than you did at the start? The ability of walking to increase my positive feelings is extremely consistent and this is because humans have been walking for at least four million years — it is the one activity that everyone (with the physical capacity) is an expert at. We all love being experts and unconsciously that sense of mastery gifts us confidence and joy, two of our most needed feelings in these challenging times.

?Walking is such a simple activity and yet it is imbued with delight. We only have to look at a toddler taking her first steps to be reminded of this. Toddlers fall down and rise up, over and over again — we are driven to walk — and when finally a child takes those first linked steps, what is the reaction we see on its face — it’s joy. The ecstasy of moving on two feet, it’s an image and a feeling that will help us move through this trying time. ■

In pic: Jono Lineen walking in Zanskar



2 Comments Posted Via Speaking Tree Comments Via ST
Comments Posted Via Facebook Comments Via Facebook
Share with