Walking is man's best medicine

Belinda Norrington:  jewellery designer-maker, wanderer and avid noticer of beauty in the ordinary

Belinda Norrington:  jewellery designer-maker, wanderer and avid noticer of beauty in the ordinary

Hello! I'm Belinda Norrington, jewellery designer-maker, wanderer and avid noticer of beauty in the ordinary. I like running in wild places, but I like walking and hiking in them even more. There are lots of things about being in open, green spaces that I think provide nourishment and wellness to mind, body and soul and I have been very kindly asked to share a few of them here, with you.

We live life at quite a lick in 2017 don't we? There is a *lot* that competes for our time, our attention and our energy - and rushing has become horribly endemic in our culture. This is one reason that I think getting outside, if possible in parks or countryside, is a brilliant and necessary antidote to the speed and stresses of 21st century living.

Walking fast, (like you were late for a meeting), is a truly awesome form of exercise - it costs nothing, it is utterly straightforward and natural, it is equipment free and possible at every level of fitness. Unlike more vigorous forms of exercise, walking or hiking can be done for hours at a time should the inclination strike, and all the cardiovascular benefits apply for walking as they do for other types of exercise. For our physical health it is a crucial balance to all the sitting we do, all the compression of our spine and the stiffening of our muscles. Unlike sport, it is not rule bound and competitive, there is a flexibility and freedom in it.

I am also interested in how walking is beneficial to the mind and soul, and also for creativity. When I head out to my local nature reserve, or along the fields and over the hills, my body and breathing fall into a natural rhythm. A C Grayling, the philosopher, has said, "To walk the country lanes and hills is to fall into step with the rest of nature; that is the pace of the cattle and the crops, the breeze, the shifting clouds ... walking, therefore, is good for one's sense of proportion. That, in turn, is good for one's mental health." Certainly, the mind seems to release its hurried, harried ways, and I agree with Henry Thoreau who once wrote in his journal, "Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow."

When walking, the mind seems to do two really useful things - it can either rest a bit in the moment, noticing the environment with its sights and sounds and smells (which is really a form of active mindfulness), or it has time to ponder, undistracted, upon issues that matter to us at the time. On most walks I do a bit of one and a bit of the other, often flowing naturally between the two.
 
Importantly, the brain is allowed to exhale a bit from the dreaded multi-tasking, to think of nothing at all bar the visual stimuli of sky and land, or gently explore things that have been bothering/interesting us. I certainly feel like this is the time my brain can breathe along with my lungs! Indeed, walking at one's own pace creates an "unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state...when we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillate with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech." (F. Jabr, New York Times).

The beauty of leaving home or office is that this is truly time that we press the pause button on all our normal activity and duties - we intentionally set aside this time away from the busyness of the world, and for that time life really cannot make most of its usual demands of us. We are physically free of normal constraints and responsibilities, indeed for that period of time we are 'lost to the world' in our walking. We step off the carousel of our busy lives and into our interior life whilst inhabiting those physical, green spaces. This is ridiculously valuable I have found. There is power in not being at the mercy and whim of the pc, telephone and doorbell, there is a reclamation of who we are without all those activities? For this reason, I do try really hard to turn off my phone, perhaps checking a couple of times for missed calls mainly because I have kids at school (you may have other reasons), but the walking is so much more powerful if the scrolling, checking and social media interacting is put aside.

A camera or a sketchbook has the positive effect however, of making me look a bit closer at the landscape, hunt with a slightly keener eye for beauty along the way, and that is no bad thing! For me this is where walking becomes critical to my creativity. Nature, and the small fragments of botanical material that I find whilst walking has become the catalyst for my jewellery designs, and the pleasure I experience when I find something breathtakingly beautiful in, say, the simple curl of a leaf or texture of an acorn husk, gives me the creative energy I need to create new collections of work. The noticing, the photographing, sketching, pondering and making have become my way of celebrating beauty in the ordinary and it has changed my outlook and perspective on life. Beauty is everywhere if you really look, and finding it produces wonder which for me also generates gratefulness and energy. Walking seems to invigorate the mind and creative thinking along with the body, and there are extensive studies that back this up, (Oppezzo and Schwartz, Stanford University).

Daily walking was a brilliant combination with a course of transformational coaching I did with Rebecca Kelly at Haelan Therapy. It provided a demarcated slot of time each day either to mentally peruse the things we had talked about in the sessions, or, equally usefully, some time to clear my mind and simply practice being in the moment and just be. I felt exercised, calm and energised with greater clarity on the topics that had been going around in my mind. The sessions and the walking have together nudged me into clearer and more positive and accurate ways of seeing myself and the work I do.

If you aren't much into walking, why don't you give it a go - half an hour a day for a week or two - my hunch is you will gain more from the small investment of time than you could have imagined?! Happy walking!

Belinda xx

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