Of course we all know walking is good for our health; it benefits our cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems as well as our lungs, mental clarity, and emotional well-being. We also know walking is better for the environment than driving because oil drilling, emissions, tires, and car fluids contribute enormous amounts of pollution to the atmosphere. Fact: one gallon of gasoline creates about 19 pounds of CO2 because the released hydrocarbons attach to oxygen in the atmosphere.
However, there are numerous other benefits to walking that I’ve only discovered after being forced to take baby steps.
Watching a baby take its first steps is a singular moment, an unforgettable milestone worth celebrating – and so begins the bittersweet struggle of a child becoming independent. From the day my first daughter could walk, she insisted on it, and gone were the brisk walks with baby in stroller, allowing me to get exercise everywhere I went. Instead, we now walk at a snail’s pace, taking an hour to walk around the block, while stopping to notice every stone, leaf, insect, piece of litter, etc. It can be frustrating when I’m trying to get somewhere, but when I’m patient and go at her pace, I’m reminded that each leaf, flower, and rock is wondrous. I realize I overlook many important and interesting things that exist on a small scale because I’m focused on getting somewhere, and forgetting the journey is utmost.
People have walked to find peace, joy, and mindfulness for centuries. Henry David Thoreau wrote extensively about the benefits of walking to enliven the body, spirt, and mind. Zen Buddhists and others practice forms of walking meditation, an ancient tradition.
Walking is a great equalizer – it removes auspices of status, and puts us, rich or poor, on equal footing with all the other species who only move under their own power, and with our ancestors that lived prior to mechanical locomotion. Walking moves us at a pace in keeping with our physical development, literally grounding us and connecting us to the Earth.
Walking is to slow down and disconnect from technology, giving the brain a chance to collect itself, as opposed to the high alert required at all times when driving. Too many people go from their house, to their car in the garage, down the road to work or the store, and back into the house, with barely more than a few steps on the actual Earth, or a few breaths of outside air, day after day.
Walking is a powerful political act as well. In 1930, Gandhi and many followers walked 240 miles to the sea to gather salt, which at the time was illegal under British Rule. Eventually, this act of nonviolent protest, this walk, lead to the repeal of the salt tax, and eventually to India’s independence from Great Britain.
From 1958 to 1981, an extraordinary woman known as Peace Pilgrim walked over 25,000 miles back and forth across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, teaching the steps to inner peace to thousands of people while advocating for nuclear disarmament and world peace. In present times, on any given weekend across the world, supporters join together in walk-a-thons and marches to show solidarity and raise awareness and funds for various health and social concerns like multiple sclerosis and equal rights.
Getting to walk is a luxury I value, and is often my only option for getting around during the day. It certainly isn’t always easy, but helps me be more mindful in planning my day, as it takes extra time. It also reminds me to have gratitude: for strong legs, heart, and lungs; for the hand-me down jogging stroller that gets us around in the rain and snow; for those who keep the bike path and sidewalks clear; for considerate drivers; for my girls’ adventurous and cooperative spirits; for our warm clothes; and for the blessing of getting to live in a walkable town with a 360 degree view of beautiful scenery. It’s been an adventure these last couple winters, pushing through the ice and snow, the girls wrapped up in a lambswool and a down sleeping bag.
So, yes, it takes effort, and I have to remind myself constantly that doing things that are hard is good for me.
Walking has helped me get to know all the different neighborhoods I’ve lived in, and going a different way each time helps me keep a fresh perspective on life. We have encounters with wildlife; birds, insects, and even fish, that we would never have seen if we’d been in a car. We smell and feel the air change as we go from dry warm areas to shady moist spots where the path heads into the shadows or dips into a drainage area. Walking outside connects us to the seasons and cycles of the Earth as we see and smell the plants that are blooming at any given time, and as we witness the phases of the moon and the angle of the sun which helps us instinctually track our journey through time and space.
Walking helps me reconnect to myself, to the Earth, and to my community. We notice things when we are walking, rather than driving, because they go by slowly. Getting to know the neighborhood gives me a sense of connection and belonging, and having eyes on the neighborhood helps everybody. Generally, more connections within any system contribute to a stronger and healthier system, resilient and resistant to damage.
In these uncertain political times, I crave opportunities to build connections with inspiring and uplifting people and things. As simple as walking is, it has helped me change my attitude about how I can be of service in the world. In my present life stage as a stay-at-home mom, I still yearn to contribute professionally, especially with the constant barrage of bad news about our environment and political crisis. Walking as a contemplative practice, like yoga or sitting meditation, helps me stay present and mindful of the things that unify all of us. Walking helps me focus on positive solutions, rather than despair. I notice what is working, what is wondrous.
I realize walking to work or errands is not an option for many, but nearly all of us can dedicate at least a few steps each day to enjoying our present moment, to honoring mother Earth, and to peace for all beings.
I used to feel discouraged that the most important accomplishment of any given day was just walking my daughter to school and back, but now I feel enormous gratitude for the opportunity. I now see it as a chance to expose my children to the beauty of the world. My individual actions may not change the world, but I believe if enough of us declare peace in our personal sphere of influence, we will knit together a strong fabric of peace that connects different individuals and different cultures across the globe, to the benefit of all.
Bipedalism, walking upright on two feet, is one of the key reasons humans have been so successful as a species. So if walking, in many respects, makes us human, maybe walking more can help us be more human – more humane. Maybe it is under our own two feet where we can find many answers to help us make peace in ourselves, with each other, and with planet EARTH, while saving money, staying healthy, and building community connections.
Sara Tremayne currently lives in beautiful Girdwood, Alaska. Enhancing connections between people and the rest of Nature drives her personally and professionally as an adventurer, a mother, an artist, an environmental educator, and a landscape designer - specializing in native plants and habitat restoration. She is grateful to be a part of the worldwide community who are working for a healthy planet and world peace.