I work a lot with women who are burned out, stressed out and bummed out. Their adrenals are exhausted from over-stress. Their thyroids are underactive, their bowels are hyperactive and they can barely make it through the day without their coffee fix. For these busy women, adding an hour a day of meditation and a yoga class 3 times a week to manage stress was just not realistic. As a result, I've had to seek out alternative methods of keeping my patients stress levels down. One of the most intriguing methods I've come across is walking meditation and labyrinths.
Dr. Liz Alexander, the author of The Magic of Labyrinths: Following Your Path, Finding Your Center is an expert in labyrinths. She's shared with us a wonderful introduction to the benefits of walking meditation and the power of labyrinths.
An Alternative Means of Meditating: The Magic of Labyrinths
by Dr. Liz Alexander
You’re probably already aware of the many health benefits associated with meditation, a practice that has become increasingly popular as more yoga studios and spas have helped to promote its physiological, psychological and spiritual effects. From reducing anxiety, depression and stress to alleviating insomnia and pain, from enhancing concentration and self-confidence to boosting the immune system, there appear to be few health issues that regular meditation cannot influence in some positive way. But what if, like me, you find it difficult to sit still? This is where finding—or even building—a labyrinth can be invaluable.
With its history buried in the mists of time and mythology, the labyrinth symbol is found in cultures throughout the ages as a representation of life’s journey. Unlike mazes which were built as challenging puzzles that are hard to navigate successfully, labyrinths have a single pathway that winds in various patterns to the center. From the mouth of the labyrinth, all you have to do is follow the path–the same route that takes you both in and out.
As the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh explains:
“Walking meditation is meditation while walking. We walk slowly, in a relaxed way, keeping a tight smile on our lips. When we practice this way, we feel deeply at ease, and our steps are those of the most secure person on earth. All our sorrows and anxieties drop away, and peace and inner joy fill our hearts. Anyone can do it. It only takes a little time, a little mindfulness, and the wish to be happy.”
In many ways walking a labyrinth, engaging in ritual and going on a secular pilgrimage are one and the same. Many people find that their meditative journey walking a labyrinth provides them with the same calming, reflective, health-boosting benefits as sitting or lying down to meditate. That is undoubtedly why many hospitals, churches, and spas have included labyrinths in their grounds. The beauty of labyrinths is that, unlike more passive forms of meditation, they can inspire you to be totally authentic.
For example, Nicholas Halpin, responsible for the 36 feet diameter Chatres-pattern canvas labyrinth at Dundee University in Scotland, discovered that de-stressing can take different forms–all of which can be accommodated by walking the labyrinth. While most people choose to walk slowly, as described by Thich Nhat Hanh, others will skip, dance or even run around a labyrinth. “After all, a meditative state takes lots of different forms, according to different needs,” says Halpin. While slow, deliberate steps may enhance mindfulness and reflection, navigating the labyrinth in a fast way can help kick-start your creativity or give a much-needed boost to your circulatory system. The choice is yours. Now, doesn’t that sound more appealing than sitting still?
You can find a labyrinth near you by accessing the World-Wide Labyrinth locator, a database of labyrinths around the world.
Dr. Liz Alexander is the author of ten nonfiction books, including The Magic of Labyrinths: Following Your Path, Finding Your Center (written under her former name of Liz Simpson), published by HarperCollins in 2002. Also known as The Book Doula, she works with would-be authors to creatively conceive, grow, and birth books that help them leave a legacy and use this promotional tool to boost their business, service, or subject-matter expertise. www.bookdoula.biz.