The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.
Even in the heart of winter, our bones beg to be walked. This particular winter has been kind in personality, releasing shoulders that customarily brace for bitter cold and steadying a cadence that habitually ticks in haste. With nature as the companion, walking offers a shift out of the direct, linear rhythm that drums out daily life. The stretched out pace of an unhurried walk is at once wecolmed by my legs and lungs, even when resisted by an impatient, jogging mind. As did many, I spent endless childhood hours outside, learning lessons that only time, space and nature can preach. Like a coveted jar of fireflies, I tightly sealed in reverence for these lessons, even as I adjusted to the walls and screens so present in our modern habitats. I now walk to simply remember all I intuitively knew as a child--that the sky is worth seeing every day...that nature is a magical teacher...that work becomes stale without breaks. The gentle wholeness hidden inside walking tames my impulsive pushes and pulls through life.
While as a city-dweller it's practical to live at least a chunk of life on foot, what always proves difficult is finding unaltered earth to tread on. With priorities of convenience and safety, cities have smoothed out nearly all our pathways. We have essentially genetically modified the art of walking. Each foot, unasked to experience the pureness of the earth, forgets the nearly limitless dances that its thirty-three joints can choreograph. Registering this loss, we routinely purchase "support" through shoes, seek familiar ground and accept shiny alternatives (escalators, elevators, subways and cars). Walking has been downgraded to an automatic and mechanical experience. Quite often, this whole-body experience is replaced by clunky feet that mindlessly shuffle, while heads, shoulders, and arms curl towards a cradled smartphone. I speculate that this blocked sensory experience has a sneaky a way of locking in our particular ways of being in and understanding the world we move in.
In Being Mortal, author Atul Gawande suggests that as we age, we start to prioritize security over engagement. He explains that we are quick to latch onto safety, even if the quality of life can be significantly compromised. I would add to Atul's insight that our attachment to security is observable at every life stage. I have many times watched my decisions, actions and thoughts be silently dictated by a desire to have what seems predictable and secure. While ahimsa, or nonharming, is imperative, we know that the body adapts, grows and sustains itself through the variability and challenge that punctuates our existence. The difficulty then is to find enough comfort to keep us balanced, and accept enough discomfort to keep us developing. It is, of course, a tricky task.
Explorative walking doesn't typically threaten our security. But it certainly can feel inconvenient, unproductive and unnecessary when held against the laundry lists that tug us up each morning. Safety isn't merely the handrail we cling to as we age; it is also our attachment, at any age, to the routines, circles and boxes that are most familiar to us. While a little of this comfort helps us feel grounded in the chaos that is life, it’s variety, adventure, and even discomfort that feeds our souls with other essential nutrients that comfort cannot. As I experience the value of outdoor walking - with the way it oils my hips, weights my feet and frees my neck- I notice that my willingness to explore my "walking ways" (especially in January) directly relates to my overall sense of connection to the world. Walking reminds me to find ground that isn't paved and to seek detours that ask for time. It kindly turns my gaze towards patterns marinating in my mind and body. It gives me a moment, even in winter boots, to feel the earth that I so easily forget I am part of. I have found that walking helps capture a broader sense of home that, like each of us, has seasons and weather just waiting to be explored. If we lean just outside the security of our routines, and soothe the racing mind, we will find trails and skies and trees that speak to us, whispering songs that stir ordinary days awake. Even the darkness of winter can brighten us up, if we take a walk, hand in hand with nature.
Photography by Brianna Goodman