By Marcela A. Toro Garland, BA, MA, CBT
In a stressful world, how can we break away from destructive patterns of behaviour?
Researchers have proven that going for a daily walk embraces so many more benefits than we have ever considered. Some have even claimed that it is the perfect exercise and one of the best ways to reach and maintain good health. Walking may be the simplest form of exercise, yet so overlooked as to how enriching and beneficial the walk can be.
Research presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress found that those who engaged in daily moderate exercise, such as walking, added an additional three to seven years to their lives. Even the obese could expect a 16 percent reduced risk of dying early.
Walking is not only a great exercise for the able bodied but it is recommended to all, rich or poor, the young, the old, boys and girls. Walking is inexpensive, requires no training, is the easiest of all exercises, and is even claimed to be the smartest exercise there is. It has been said by health professionals that walking can have a bigger impact on disease risk and various health conditions than just about any other remedy that’s readily available to you. It is an antidepressant, it improves cognitive function, and there is now evidence that it may slow the onset of dementia.
There’s no easier way than walking to feel better, get in shape, slim down, and enjoy the outdoors.
A morning walk is the best exercise for a number of reasons. It refreshes the mind and improves your health in many ways. It provides fresh air to the lungs. It purifies the blood. It improves digestion. Spending at least an hour or two walking earlier in the day prompts us to enjoy the beauty of the sun rising in the east. These first rays impact us and influence us toward the goodness of being healthy. And if you can do so outdoors, in the sunshine, and barefoot for grounding, you’ll enjoy even greater benefits. A walk in the early morning can keep a person fit and fresh throughout the day. It has also been noted that a morning walk every day keeps the doctor away.
The March 2011 issue of the Harvard Health Letter reported that researchers have found a remarkably consistent association between faster walking speed and longer life. Later in life, walking becomes as much an indicator of health as a promoter of it. After age 65, how fast you walk may predict how long you have to live. We may never completely avoid becoming old, but we may delay the time we become old. At your next medical check-up, don’t be surprised if your doctor hands you a prescription to walk. Yes, this simple activity that you’ve been doing since you were about a year old is now being touted (along with other forms of regular physical activity) as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug,” in the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Early in life, children struggle to learn to walk and as soon as they have mastered the art, it’s one of the easiest ways in the world to be physically active. Studies have also found that regular physical activity begun at an early age helps reduce the risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and stroke and has a surprising major impact on a child’s wellbeing. Many teachers report that children who walk or cycle to school or participate in daily physical activity show improved concentration, enhanced memory, learning, creativity, and an improved mood for up to two hours afterwards.
What a fantastic activity for you and your children! It’s free, you can be spontaneous, and it’s a great way to spend quality time together. It is the cheapest and the best recipe for maintaining good health. You can do it virtually anywhere without special or expensive gear—just a comfortable pair of shoes. Early introduction to physical activity builds healthy habits that carry on through a lifetime
Can walking really provide the health benefits normally associated with more challenging fitness programs? Exercise plans based on more demanding activities such as jogging or working out in the gym, far from achieving the health and fitness benefits they promise, oftentimes fail to deliver for those who need exercise the most by requiring far too much in terms of time and effort. Regular walking is easy to fit around normal everyday activities, is flexible, and, for those who really enjoy walking outdoors, can be expanded into general leisure activities like a walking holiday.
Part of what makes walking so beneficial is that when you’re walking, you can’t be sitting. Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increases by an average of 60 percent when walking. Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot.
Walking has it all. Simple and natural, it doesn’t require any instruction or skill. It can be a very modest form of exercise or it can demand enough skill and intensity to be an Olympic sport. You can walk alone for solitude or with friends for companionship. You can walk indoors on a treadmill or outside in the city or country, at home or away. You can get all the benefits of moderate exercise with a very low risk of injury. And to boot, walking is inexpensive.
All things considered, Charles Dickens got it right: “Walk to be healthy, walk to be happy.” And more than 2,400 years ago Hippocrates said, “Walking is man’s best medicine.” As two scientist confirmed in 18 different studies evaluating 460,000 participants from 1970 to 2007, Hippocrates knew very well what he was talking about.
Walking daily is truly the best medicine for a healthier, longer, and happier life for you and your family. What’s more, it’s free and has practically no negative side effects. Learning how to meditate is the one singular and most beneficial thing we can do for ourselves. Although I began a yoga and meditation practice in the mid-1970s while attending university in Montreal, I did not undertake an in-depth routine until much later. This was due to often feeling conflicted by what I perceived as a dichotomy between the practice and the world around me. Eastern philosophies were, and remain, not something that mainstream society fully embraces. However, we are currently living in undeniably unique times when it comes to the subject of spirituality.
In the midst of a technological revolution and in the face of a collapse of organized religions in the West, we see levels of stress on the increase. Stress is the cause of many of our society’s contemporary ailments and affects large sectors of the population. In addition, globalization, a concept too vast to fully comprehend, leaves us with many feelings of uncertainty about the future and alone looking for answers to pressing questions of livelihood.
What helps me is to observe that we exist in a continuum of time and space and solutions are often hidden in the recognition that the world is in a constant state of flux—nothing ever stays the same. And that being the constant, we can remain optimistic that changes can indeed bring positive outcomes.
In Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Deepak Chopra states, “The old space-time model was smashed, replaced by a timeless, flowing field of constant transformation. This quantum field isn’t separate from us—it is us. Where Nature goes to create stars, galaxies, quarks, and leptons, you and I go to create ourselves.”
Just as we are often unwavering in our desire to learn what it takes to break away from dysfunctional family behavioural patterns, we can also learn how to break away from dysfunctional environments, societies, and historical patterns. It is not an easy task to understand all that is happening in our immediate reality or what might be affecting our singular generation. The continual repetition of these negative patterns often defines traps that do not allow for positive changes to take place for that much needed paradigm shift. The question that follows is: How do we stop? How do we break away from those destructive patterns characterized by actions and reactions to events or feelings? I believe that it begins when the individual consciously decides to embark on a new path, consequently changings habits and eventually his or her overall disposition.
Within this context, various forms of meditation techniques such as mindfulness, recitation of mantras, pranayama, or other types of yoga become tangible tools to aid in the path of health, recovery, and finding balance. Meditation, to be precise, is what allows us to slow down and observe—observe our own behaviour, our thoughts, and the world around us in a more detached manner. Yes, the goal is to eventually give up unnecessary brain activity, allowing the mind that much needed rest from thinking. But it’s a process and it takes time and discipline. It is also a good idea to explore techniques that are best suited to your character and to have the guidance from an experienced meditator so as not to have your practice deteriorate into something problematic.
But before you begin contemplating meditation as a worthwhile pursuit, I would suggest that you examine your personal belief system—the reason why meditation appeals to you and what exactly it is that you are seeking. This will help you when attempting to focus your mind, set goals, and maintain your motivation in the face of difficulties with your practice. In the words of the Buddha, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.”
In his article Buddhism and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Dr. Paul Greene supports this position. “This is an idea that’s in line with current thinking in psychology. In fact, this simple philosophy—that changing the way we think can change the way we feel—underpins the very practice of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), an approach widely used in clinical psychology and counseling, as well as stress management programs. The radical and powerful notion that our thoughts make up our realities may seem silly at first, especially when we think of how important circumstances can be in our lives. The quote is a statement about something deeper than just mood or anxiety, it’s talking about reality. The idea that ‘we are what we think’ refers to the Buddhist notion of anatman, the idea that at the core of our beings, there is no individual self. Rather, what we mistakenly identify with as a ‘self’ is a combination of a physical body, sensations, emotions, and bundles of thoughts. The Buddha would suggest that if any of us were to closely inspect this ‘self’ through meditation, we would realize that it has no inherent nature or existence; that it is an illusion of sorts.”
The difference between thoughts and beliefs is that thoughts are events in time lasting only for a moment, whereas beliefs are more stable and long-lasting. From the perspective of Buddhist psychology, these beliefs begin to comprise what we think of as the self. Hence the Buddhist statement “We are not our thoughts.” We would like to think that many things about us are not subject to change. One of the fundamental concepts of Buddhism is anicca (flux, or impermanence). This is the idea that everything that comes into existence will eventually cease to exist. The beauty of Buddhism, even though a religion, is that it is more of a philosophy than doctrine; thus, very much asserting humans’ free will. The fundamental lesson to learn from Buddhist teachings is that whatever our actions are in the present time, these resonate into the future and most certainly are the reflection of events that have taken place sometime in the past.
One thing I learned through having worked with so many people has been that despite their tremendous suffering they are incredibly resilient. Suffering due to innumerable causes can be indeed a paralyzing force that ignites feelings of tremendous despair. Contemplating yoga, mindfulness, or other forms of alternate healing modalities is a path that requires determination, inspiration, adequate support, repetition, knowledge, and focused intention; and it’s by no means easy. Challenges in life are often connected to being able to learn how to restrain our desires and practise self-discipline and compassion for ourselves, others, and our beloved planet. Otherwise we consistently move toward a path of self-destruction.
When it comes to dealing with our own health, my recommendation as an experienced meditator and healer is to know the importance of observing, researching, studying, and being discerning over alternate healing modalities at your disposal in your community. Do not be afraid to ask lots of questions. Take charge of your own body, health, and wellbeing while keeping an open mind. Practise critical thinking and mindfulness in all your activities. All of these actions combined will most certainly put you on the right path. And if truth be told, every little bit helps. Every modest action—building a garden, installing solar panels, promoting cooperative work environments, being a diligent parent, volunteering, nurturing, practising compassion or empathy—can contribute to a better future, a better life, and overall happiness. And we can most certainly include here the gains with your own personal meditation practice.
Marcela A. Toro Garland, BA, MA, CBT, has over 20 years’ experience in the social services field and as a community development specialist. A yoga practitioner and teacher, she is also a certified cross-cultural communications specialist and has completed courses on Buddhist cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Marcela recently moved to Penticton, where she teaches an art class to people suffering from severe mental health issues. Visit www.toro-garland.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Reprint from our Summer 2016 Issue