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restorative walking 101

by kye on October 25, 2009

This past week, I was dealing with a difficult, time-consuming situation.  By the time I could step back a little I was drained of energy.  My body was tense and tight.  I needed a restorative walk.

I just got back from that walk feeling balanced, relaxed, and at peace.  I’d like to share with you part of what I did that made it so effective.

First, I took my walk in the morning.

A tough week takes its toll on body rhythms.  Fortunately, these rhythms are easy to re-set if you know how.  Our bodies are programmed to respond to morning light to keep our rhythms in sync with the natural world.  This re-rhythming is augmented by the rhythmic movement of walking.

I began my walk this morning by paying attention to my breathing and posture.  For the first five or ten minutes I breathed in for four steps, then out for eight steps.  I loosened my shoulders, and let them circle back and drop into their natural, relaxed back-and-down position.

These breathing and posture changes ‘re-set’ my autonomic nervous system, helping the sympathetic system let down and supporting the calm quiet of the parasympathetic system.  I felt myself settling back into the feeling of being in ordinary time with a regular routine.

Next I began to rest in sensory experience.  I focused first on just that most basic of senses, the sense of touch.  I gave all my attention to the sensation of each foot connecting with the earth just-so.  Then I noticed other physical sensations of walking, like the feeling of my hips in motion.  I felt the breeze, and the temperature of the air.

Once I was grounded in my own movement, I added other senses. I started with smell, which is nearly as primal as touch.  This led naturally to the sense of sight, as the scent of late-season flowers invited me to find where they were blooming.

When I turned for home, I deepened my relaxation a little further.  I softened the muscles around my eyes, especially at my temples.  And I let my shoulders and arms go very loose and light, playing ‘empty coat sleeves’.  I let them swing freely, however they were moved by the movement of walking.

As I reached home, I noticed how easy it was to climb the stairs.  Time it took? —about 20 minutes.

My simple recipe, summarized:

  • walk in the morning light
  • use breathing and posture to ‘talk’ to the autonomic nervous system
  • move deep into sensory exploration
  • soften the eyes
  • empty the shoulders

If you try my recipe, don’t feel like you need to add all the ingredients at first.  Just pick two or three that sound especially good to start with.  Over time you can add the others.

It would be a pleasure to read about your experiences with this way of walking, if you’d like to share them below:


it’s not just the note, it’s the beat

by kye on September 21, 2009

On my walk just now, I was stopped in my tracks by a bush densely covered with creamy blossoms, barely tinted rosy-gold.  They were shaped something like trumpet flowers but more blunt.  The leaves were a very light sage green.

I wondered, ‘is this a member of the sage family?’  I rubbed a leaf, smelled my fingers: no smell at all.  And the leaves didn’t really seem very sage-like other than the color.

Where did I first learn to rub a leaf like that?  Maybe from my mother?  I don’t know; the beginnings are lost—but it’s an act I’ve repeated many many times.

Deeper, is this bent towards the names of things.  I remember how intense the drive towards naming was in my sons, just learning to talk: “Da?!!” they would demand, as they pointed to the unknown.

This need to know the names of things and all about them has echoes among the chimpanzees.  The older ones know which trees are fruiting when, and take the others straight there.  There must be a drive among the young ones to register the repeating patterns of things, because they will be back to these trees, down the generations.

And we will register that there is such a thing as ‘going back to those trees’ among chimpanzees; and we will watch them do it, gathering our own chimpanzee-knowing ‘fruit’ down our generations.

When the world is in upheaval, it’s not enough to ‘embrace change’.  We need patterns, continuity, fruit we can count on.  Then we are free to savor the uniqueness of this moment, without any falseness of attitude.  We need both change and also the regular beat, before life feels like music.

And the awareness of distinctions, ‘like trumpet flowers but more blunt’ makes it possible to see more: this moment becomes richer as an individual note within the beat.