Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Walking Cure


Freud was famous for his revolutionary “talking cure.” For those beginning to suffer from the confines of too-much civilization, too many repressed layers of polite society, lying on a couch and blaming your mother was just the ticket to get better. He made his mark on the art and science of self-reflection, something I happen to think is a good idea (though I prefer other styles than the Freudian model). But sometimes I wonder if his work would have been just as effective—and perhaps more—if he had at least included “the walking cure.”

The Father of that approach was Old Man Mosie. Feeling sick in the head? Simple. Step forward, turn around, do the Hokey Pokey and get out of town! Preferably on your own two feet.

In recommending exercise as Rule Number 1 in a healthy brain, John Medina, author of Brain Rules,  notes that the human body was designed to walk some 12 miles a day hunting, gathering, foraging and the like. There were no gym memberships in Neanderthal days because survival skills demanded a cross-fit workout free of charge. We modern human humans have the same bodies, minds and emotions as our ancestors from 40,000 years ago and just because we think we’re smart just because we have computers. But sitting around at desks for 8 hours tapping ink keyboards is actually counter-evolutionary. Our bodies suffer and so do our brains. Exercise stimulates the proteins that keep the neurons well-connected. It brings blood to the brain, carrying glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up toxins. Without a sufficient dose of exercise, those toxins leak down to the heart and we feel—well, sick in the head. “Get off the couch and leave your mother alone!” says Old Man Mosie. “Start walking!”

That’s indeed what I have been doing, rain or shine, this past week in Prague and in Berlin. Now back in San Francisco, I took my two visiting Icelandic friends on my usual “Doug tour” up the 287 Filbert Street steps to Coit Tower and down to North Beach and through Chinatown and up again to the Fairmount Hotel and Grace Cathedral, blessed with the first sunshine and warm weather in the last 10 days. Wasn't that lovely! Yes, it was.

This morning, in honor of Earth Week, I’ll walk the 5 miles to school with the 5th grade teacher (my daughter Talia) and some 25 kids. Of course, I could do this every day or at least once a week, but it takes Earth Week to remind me that this Walking Cure is available any time, any place, costs nothing, needs no Uber ap, is healthy both for the planet and my own body, mind and heart and in company with others, a great way to connect, talking while walking. With your mother, for example. Then instead of complaining about her to some bearded guy charging you by the hour, you could take a walk with her and find out what was behind her parenting choices while marveling at the wild parrots squawking overhead and the emerging Spring flowers and the view from the hill.

Extra-credit tip: Take along a little pink rubber ball and improve your hand-eye coordination while you’re at it. Or a book of poetry and memorize a poem, matching the cadence of the lines to the rhythm of your stride. Take out the damn earphones—you don’t need a soundtrack like your life is a film. Listen to the birds instead. And for heaven’s sake, keep that phone hidden away. Don’t let the machine rob you of attention to the world. Just walk.

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