Brain Break

brain-breakHaving a brain break is a great way to get a perspective on what’s happening elsewhere in your life. Everyone probably has their preferred method of relaxing their head, be it reading, listening to music, watching movies or going out with friends. Mine of course is walking and I’ve found the more I walk, the more I need to walk.

There have been a few studies recently looking at the positive effects walking can have on brain fatigue. This is what I call fuzzy brain or simply overload – when I’m just too overwhelmed or exhausted to make one more decision. The days when a question like ‘what’s for dinner’ can send me straight out the door for a post-work/pre-evening walk. This study for example found people who walked in a natural environment had decreases in levels of anxiety and rumination (compulsively dwelling on something negative or stressful) as well as better cognition, useful for complex working tasks compared to a group who walked for the same amount of time in an urban setting. Another work-related benefit is an active commute. This study out of the UK found that people who walked (or biked) to work reported better psychological well-being over car commuters, including an ability to concentration better.

It took me many years of walking to realize this is an activity my body and mind crave. Luckily, I’m aware enough of when I’m feeling all itchy and distracted, going for a walk will at least calm me a little bit, if not completely cure whatever is ailing me. Try it next time you are feeling stressed – I can almost guarantee it’ll probably work better than chocolate!

Image courtesy of Sdmania


Wind your Way to Peace

lavender-labrinythI recently read about this farm in Michigan that has created a labyrinth with flower-lined paths and a herb garden in the middle. Lined with sweet-smelling lavender, I image this meander to be a colorfully scented experience at the right time of year.

Thinking about the meditative walk this particular labyrinth would give, got me thinking of the reflective tool these mazes were initially intended to be. ‘Maze’ isn’t an accurate description of a labyrinth; there is only one path in and one path out. They were originally designed as a place for spiritual contemplation and prayer. The idea was to give the walker space to slow down, become at peace and prepare themselves for prayer. Labyrinths are an ancient practice and found in cultures ranging from Hopi to Greek, Hindu to Christian. The idea of walking a labyrinth is very similar to today’s walking mediation. Labyrinths offer a specially designed site in which to let your mind be free.

If you are interested in learning more there are organizations focused on the symbol. The Labyrinth Society is a group of like-mined labyrinth enthusiasts while Veriditas is dedicated to inspiring personal change through labyrinths. If you simply want to know where your nearest labyrinth is, check this locator.

Because there is only one path winding through a labyrinth (no dead ends), it is not meant to be a challenge, nor to confuse. Instead labyrinths present an opportunity to quiet your mind, relax your body and energize your soul.

Image courtesy of Cherry Point Farm & Market

The Walking Artist

“Only art resulting from the experience of individual walks.” That’s the description of Hamish Fulton’s work. A London born artist, Mr. Fulton translates the walks he takes into art via photographs, illustrations and texts. He doesn’t bring any objects back from his walk, instead interprets the experience into an art form.

Hamish Fulton Tibetan Protest

Since 1972, Mr. Fulton has only created art brought about from his walks and since 1994 has added group walks to his repertoire.

Hamish Fulton 32 Walks Map

What I like most about Mr. Fulton is his ethos that “A walk has a life of its own and does not need to be materialized into an artwork.” He believes every walk has value and the act itself is important. While your walks may not create any artistic outputs (mine certainly don’t) you will receive something personal and special every time you head into the streets.

Hamish Fulton To Worcester

Richard Long is another artist inspired by walking.

All images courtesy of Maureen Paley

Creativity Here I Come!

Walking CreativityMy last post was a great infographic about all the super things walking can do for your body. I’m much more in the ‘mind’ camp when it comes to reasons to walk and have written about how it’s great for relationships and boosting your mood, among other things. But one of the things I really love about walking is what it does for not only my productivity but also my creativity.

In The Philosophy of Walking, author Frederic Gros said: “Boredom is immobility of the body confronted with emptiness of mind. While walking, one is not obliged to think, to think this or that or like this or that. During that continuous but automatic effort of the body, the mind is placed at one’s disposal. It is then that thoughts can arise, surface or take shape.” I love that because when else can you let your mind truly be at play?

While walking, I always have the feeling that my legs are propelling my brain into active mode. Not in a stressful, decision-making sense, but in a natural and open way. I’m looking at the scenery around me, other people going by, and letting my mind wander where it will. And because it has the freedom to do what it wants, it often pushes into my consciousness ideas or solutions that hadn’t had the opportunity to present themselves yet. Why do so many people say they get their ideas in the shower? Because that’s a place you typically aren’t thinking about much. Same with walking – leaving your mind to do what it will may provide you with some answers you’ve been hoping for.

Alternatively, I’ve also found pondering on a sticky dilemma while walking can be useful. Putting yourself in a different environment with the peace and time to devote to thinking about a challenge can give your brain the break it needs to come up with a result. Even if no concrete resolution is made, a walk will help calm any stressors and leave you feeling refreshed to deal with whatever comes your way.

I always love when my ideas about walking are proved by science. If you want to learn more about how walking promotes creativity, check out this study out of Stanford.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles