Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Walking Cure

Freud’s groundbreaking couch therapy was once called “the talking cure.” With all due respect for his and his follower’s breakthroughs, I often think that much of our malaise in Western culture could be as effectively healed by “the walking cure.” Instead of (or before or after) complaining about our mother, we get off the couch and out into the world and walk for a bunch of miles. We might discover at the end that Mom wasn’t that bad after all. Or she did us some damage, but hey, it’s time to move on. Literally.

John Medina puts Exercise as the first of his twelve Brain Rules (in his book of the same title). He speculates that our ancestors walked an average of 12 miles a day and that our brains depended on the oxygen it provides to soak up toxins, the protein it stimulates to keep neurons connected and the glucose it generates to give us energy. Any exercise is beneficial, but here I want to put in a plug for walking.

Usually in Salzburg, I rent a bike for transportation and in this most bike-friendly of just about any city, that has been both practical and pleasurable. But I haven’t gotten to it yet and instead am walking the two-mile path from the Youth Hostel to the Orff Institut each morning and late afternoon. I do love biking, but walking is pretty great as well. A slower pace that enables me to pay attention to things that I normally speed by on the bike, to notice more, to savor more. No part of my brain has to attend to traffic of any sort and thus, I'm wholly free to plan my day’s classes or begin shaping my next blog or wonder about the things I’m seeing, hearing, smelling.

If your walk is through a place of beauty, as mine is here, then extra credit. One gets the muscles toned, the breath rhythmic, the thoughts rising while enjoying some aesthetic inspiration from the falling snow, the waving tree branches, the mist-shrouded mountain. Walking there, the freshness of morning walks by your side as you emerge into the day. Walking back, the glow of evening sunset carries off the day’s accomplishments and invites you to savor well-earned rest and a beer and some quiet time in your room or enjoying the social buzz of the restaurant or club. No need to schedule your trip to the gym, it’s all folded into the simple need of arriving at work.

Once a year or so, I walk the five miles to school back home in San Francisco and now I’m wondering why I don’t do it more often. Parts of it far from Salzburgian in its aesthetic beauty, certainly not so flat and the two-hour round trip perhaps a bit too much. But worth thinking about.

Meanwhile, it’s mid-day at the Orff institute and the snow is thickening. Could be I’ll be humming “Winter Wonderland” on my return trip. 

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