Most mornings I take a walk. The air is fresh , not yet hot and I find it the best way to start a day. It clears my mind and puts me in a good mood. Being fortunate enough to live in a green area with not much traffic I can enjoy this most natural form of exercise easily. I do not classify myself as a jogger, preferring instead to walk and run in interchanging intervals as in this way I do not get tired and have the best of both worlds. Today walking has become a preferred form of exercise for many people since it is much easier on the joints as opposed to jogging, and is recommended as one of the best forms of getting fit for all ages. It can be done anywhere, anytime, no need to pay a club membership and without much fuss or the need of an expensive equipment . All that is needed is a good pair of trainers and comfortable clothes. No wonder that so many people have taken to the streets. On my walk I see people of all ages and fitness walking or running especially on the weekends. Why is it such a great way to keep fit and healthy then? The benefits are many fold. Regular deep breathing while walking helps to oxygenate the blood, improve circulation while increasing oxygen in tissues and cells. Without oxygen we die. Releasing carbon dioxide and increasing oxygen helps the immune system to function as viruses and bacteria can not exist where oxygen is present. Insufficient oxygen opens door to disease. Another important point is that breathing and oxygenation reduce the acidity level of the blood .Excess acidity is one of the causes of lowered immunity. Sweating too reduces acidity thus exercise helps to normalize pH of the body . As well as increased oxygenation through improved breathing walking directly affects the lymphatic system. Composed of lymph vessels, lymph nodes or glands and lymphoid organs and tissues like thymus, spleen, tonsils and appendix it carries excess fluid, bacteria and waste products from the body’s tissues and cells back into the blood. In the lymph nodes, bacteria and other foreign particles are filtered off and destroyed and as the lymph leaves the node it picks up lymphocytes (white blood cells) and antibodies that destroy bacteria, viruses and other harmful particles. This way the lymphatic system works closely with blood, especially with the lymphocytes that are so essential to the body‘s defense against disease. Since lymphatic system does not have a pump in the same way as the cardiovascular system where the heart pumps the blood, but instead has to rely on the movement of the body. Hence we find the lymph nodes or glands situated around armpits, groin and the neck exactly where we move as we walk, run or exercise. Apart from these most important functions especially in today’s polluted world, walking exercises muscles, improving muscle and body tone and flexibility, exercises lungs and the cardio-vascular system. Walking gets the heart pumping, blood and lymph moving, while at the same time improving digestion and elimination. It has a calming effect on the nervous system by reducing stress level while helping to clear the mind. Exercise helps the body to produce endorphins, making us feel better and happier. Hence people who do not or can not move much, tend to suffer from lowered immunity, are more prone to colds, flu, and other diseases, depression, lethargy and excess weight. Such a simple action as walking has so many benefits attached to it. Yet there is more to walking than just meets the eye. There is walking as a sport, to gain fitness and to loose weight, to improve immunity, to clear the mind. Then there is the stroll and talk. I see many walkers who are more talkers than walkers. Their attention, their mind is on the talk rather than walking which is something taken for granted, just an automatic action on the part of the body. Of course there is nothing wrong with talking while taking a walk, but then it is a stroll, “taking a walk” rather than an exercise. There is a big difference between the two. Walking as an exercise one has to learn the art of walking. To understand what happens to the body, the coordination, breathing, awareness and being focused on the exercise and breath in order for the walk to have any real and sustained effect which is the object of the exercise after all. Naturally any kind of movement is better than no movement at all. Yet in order to get the best results with maximum effect, there needs to be a focus on the action performed. I suggest that you do an experiment next time you go walking as an exercise as opposed to just going for a walk, and feel the difference for your self.
Strolling is a pleasant form of movement that is beneficial and very enjoyable when one can really give full attention to talking which is a great mind clearer. So many words filling up and clogging up the mind! What most people don’t realize is that talking requires a lot of energy .While our mind is focused on what we are saying we are not paying attention to our body and breathing, thus robbing us of valuable oxygen. It is impossible to breathe deeply while talking. When we turn our attention on the act of walking and we focus the mind on correct breathing, breathing in through the nose and into the stomach, and out through the mouth taking carbon dioxide out, on feeling the movement of the legs, becoming aware of the action, it becomes a very different experience and talking becomes impossible. Walking with full awareness, body aligned, head, shoulders and spine straight, focusing on the movement of legs and feeling the ground under the feet, fully conscious while observing the movements, breathing deeply and rhythmically, then it changes into a walking meditation that affects the body/mind organism in a totally different way. It becomes a harmony between mind and body, movement and breathing. The experience changes from an unconscious act into a meditative action or active meditation, which is the same thing. It brings us into being here and now.
When the mind is focused on the breathing, thinking becomes less, the energy is conserved rather than dissipated through unnecessary talk and the whole exercise becomes much more effective. It’s not about how long or how fast we exercise, but the quality of exercise. The time can be cut in half, yet experience better results when we focus fully. So if you would like to give your body and mind a healthy form of exercise, improve your immunity, to feel alive and full of vitality, try the walking meditation. Learn the art of walking and you will feel the difference and benefits immediately.