Emma Cannon on how the simple act of walking can transform us
We are not part of nature; we are nature. This has been my mantra for many, many years – even as far back as the 1980s. My father taught me: “What we do to our environment, we do to ourselves. We are not separate.”
The current environmental crisis is calling for us to awaken. We have been sleepwalking into a disaster for many years and, by all accounts, we have limited time to act.
But how do we get people to listen and take action? I think one of the ways is for us to deeply engage in nature. When I studied Chinese medicine, one of the first things I learnt is how connected we are to nature. We learnt about the five elements: earth, metal, water, wood and fire. These elements exist within each of us, and if one becomes out of balance, it can cause disease and ill health. Chinese medicine is based on observing nature and how we learn can explain all living things. We are all connected.
Spending time in nature is extremely therapeutic, and one of the things I encourage my patients to do is to walk outside in nature regularly.
When we walk, we move our four limbs in a rhythmical way, and this helps our digestive function and our gut-brain connection. This rhythmical movement has a very therapeutic effect on both our actual digestive systems and our ‘digestion’ of thoughts and ideas. I call it ‘fertile walking’. For a ruminating mind, this practice can take us out of our heads and give us tools to worry less. Somehow everything seems easier after a walk.
When you walk, tune in to your body. Bring your awareness to the way it feels in relation to your surroundings. Notice the air and how it feels on your skin. Feel how your feet connect to the ground and the qualities of it underfoot. If your mind becomes distracted by troubles or thoughts about something that has just happened, or about something in the future, bring it back to the present time and re-connect simply to the task of walking.
You can also try to bring your breathing and walking into alignment – notice your breath, how you breathe in for a count of one, and out for one. Notice if you pause. You may realise that you barely breathe at all. If that is the case try to bring awareness to your breathing. Feel your abdomen rise and fall with each inhalation and exhalation.
Take in all the colours and wildlife surrounding you. Notice small, incidental things and allow yourself to be fortified by the awe and wonder of our beautiful planet. Try to incorporate ‘fertile walking’ into your daily life as a mindfulness practice.
Emma is an integrated women’s health expert, registered acupuncturist and author emmacannon.co.uk
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