I want to thank Alexander for his question on my previous post about the daily walk. Alexander wrote, “Great blog but I didn't understand the logic behind not talking, chatting, pausing or listening to music while walking. Would really appreciate your response.” I’m glad this question was raised, as I sometimes feel that the nature of the walk that I’m speaking of may not be fully understood and that it warrants further elaboration.
The daily walk meets two main objectives. First, it is intended as an aerobic exercise accompanied by full breathing. It is not enough to walk at a relaxed pace; the arms must move vigorously, and you must walk at close to your maximum speed. And second, the walk allows you to have time to yourself for calm reflection.
Both of these objectives are compromised by distractions. Talking to a friend either in person or on a cell phone prevents you from being able to breathe fully without interrupting your body’s natural rhythm of breath, and it typically also makes it more difficult to walk briskly at the optimum rate for your health. Even if a walking partner’s speed happens to be a very close match with your own, talking is still a significant disruption to your own natural breathing pattern and focused exercise. With regard to pausing during the walk, this would undermine the effectiveness of the aerobic exercise: the activity must be sustained to obtain maximum benefits from an aerobic workout. All of these distractions limit one’s ability to receive the maximum benefits of the physical exercise.
Regarding the second objective of the walk, talking and listening to music also undermine the benefits of true “you” time. We are typically so busy and on the go from the moment we wake to the moment we fall asleep, trying to be all things to all people, that the daily walk is one opportunity to remove yourself from constant stimulation and simply be with yourself. Conversation draws your attention away from yourself, and while listening to music may be something that we sometimes think of as time for ourselves, it’s still a strong external stimulus that absorbs your attention to some degree, preventing the time from being fully available for self-reflection or present moment awareness. This period of clarity and rest for the mind can be a powerful factor in allowing you to build optimal health and perform your best throughout the upcoming day.
The urban gym (the outdoors) is an excellent place for you to fortify yourself for the day. By breathing fresh air outside, fully utilizing the breathing mechanism, and allowing your senses to be stimulated naturally rather than through the activities we engage in for the rest of the day, your attention can be naturally relaxed while your body benefits from a vigorous, whole-body, low-impact workout. This is the goal of the daily walk and this is why I recommend the elimination of major distractions.
Beyond walking, I also recommend making stretching a part of your daily program. Stretching is a natural and highly effective technique for the maintenance of the body. Just watch a cat or a dog after waking, and you will notice how it nurtures its body by stretching; nature has equipped animals to know when they should stretch. The suggested stretches will support good posture and help to avoid back pain. Stretching helps to prevent a variety of injuries throughout the body, while strengthening and conditioning your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Stretching helps to release the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, and it also helps to prevent arthritis. It aids with sleep and relaxation and promotes vitality. The best time to stretch is immediately after your morning walk or exercise. This is an activity that you may need to ease into at first, being careful not to push your flexibility too far in the beginning.
I developed my stretching routine from yoga practices learned during my recovery from my breakdown. Although I have practiced yoga for fifteen years, I prefer to make use of this particular routine on a daily basis, as it incorporates the most important postures and stretches and can be practiced with ease in any environment, even a hotel room. I took the best of what I had found in traditional yoga and then refined it for simplicity and effectiveness. This set of exercises helps with restful sleep, improves your appearance, and boosts your enthusiasm for life. It also removes pain from joints and purifies the body through the use of the breath when practiced effectively, promoting harmony throughout your body. Instructional videos of the entire routine can be found on the Stress Pandemic website under the “Resources” section (http://www.stresspandemic.com/resources/video/). This set of stretches is specifically designed to give you all the benefits of practices such as yoga but in a shorter time frame and in a more convenient, practical way.
Finally, I would like to mention the practice of “earthing.” Research has begun to reveal a link between health and a physical connection to the earth and its electrical field. Our bodies have developed in contact with the earth’s surface. For most of our history, humans walked barefoot and slept on the ground. When footwear and clothing were first developed, it was usually of a variety that still conducted electricity, such as animal skin or hide. Scientific research is now demonstrating that this contact with the ground allows for a natural exchange of electrons between the earth and our bodies. This transfer of electrons helps to neutralize free radicals and thus can aid immensely in maintaining balance and in the prevention of disease and illness.
Modern life, however, separates us from direct contact with the earth’s surface. We almost always wear rubber-soled or thick-soled shoes when outdoors. We have little or no skin contact with the earth’s surface in our daily lives—even children often spend little time outdoors. The bedding, construction, and clothing we employ completely interrupts our bodies’ natural connection with the earth. This is why I recommend daily “earthing time.” Earthing can be as simple as taking your morning walk barefoot, where safe and provided the environment allows it. This is often not possible, but simply standing barefoot outdoors, connected to the grass, dirt, sand, or water beneath you for fifteen minutes each day is enough. You could take this time to focus on your affirmations or for quiet reflection or meditation. Although not as essential as daily exercise (such as the daily walk), connecting directly with the energy of the earth, with which we have always been intimately linked, is a practice that can contribute greatly to your overall balance and well-being.
Wishing all a happy and healthy new year.