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The Walking Cure

Updated: May 30

TriMet building at 2015 SE Water Ave. Mural by Molly Mendoza.

In the throes of the pre-vaccine pandemic, walking was something that kept me steady and energized. I walked alone, I walked with friends. Sometimes I multitasked: I walked to do my errands, or to listen to therapeutic podcasts, or to take pictures of flowers or street art with my phone. Other times I just walked, without my device, without a wallet, without a destination. I always returned home feeling better than when I left. This connection between walking and the mind has deep historical roots. Walking meditation is an old practice with origins in Buddhism, where sitting meditation alternates with slow, deliberate walking in circles. Labyrinths, the oldest dating back to the 5th century B.C. in Egypt, are used in many cultures as a way to find clarity and insight. Famous writers including Henry David Thoreau, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, and Gary Snyder sang the praises of solitary walks to spark ideas, find freedom from social complexities, solve artistic puzzles, and observe their surroundings more keenly.

It's easy to find evidence of the many benefits of walking as a regular practice. But since I'm a little obsessed with creativity, I wondered about that particular connection. It turns out that researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that walking does indeed improve creativity. The study results suggested that walking improves creative, brainstormy thinking, but it didn't improve focused thinking, or looking for single, correct answers. Surprisingly, people who walked indoors on a treadmill enjoyed the same creative boost that people who walked outside experienced. More details about the study are here. This doesn't surprise me at all. Some of my best ideas have come to me while I'm out pounding the pavement, along with musical fragments that have turned into songs. In fact, the prospect of having great ideas is possibly the biggest motivator for getting out the door and moving. I can almost count on the appearance of fresh notions when I’m out there. I try to have a small notebook or a set of index cards with me, for these exciting moments. As I write this, heavy Portland rain (the first real deluge of Autumn) pelts my roof and threatens to flood my basement. If I'm to keep up any walking habit, I will need to push my body a little harder to get out the door, into harsher elements. So, I remind myself that:

  • short walks are still good walks

  • there's no bad weather, only bad gear

  • I will certainly feel great after the walk, even if I don't feel great during the walk

  • a treadmill might be in my future!

Music for Gait-Keeping

Click here and step to the beat!

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