Kenneth Grahame, Maria Popova, and Me on the Virtues of Walking

Walking is one of the quintessential self-improvement acts.

I walk because I have read – and I believe – that it is the single best activity one can do to improve one’s health.

It limbers the joints, straightens the back, and exercises the calf muscles (which are the body’s second hearts, pumping blood upwards). It also strengthens the quadriceps, which are the body’s largest muscles and, therefore, the most important muscles in maintaining overall muscular/skeletal fitness.

But that is only the half of it. Walking (alone) is also an immensely efficient way to reduce stress, resolve mental difficulties, solve creative problems, and quiet the mind.

The great Maria Popova (of BrainPickings fame) recently reviewed an essay by Kenneth Grahame. (He was the Scottish writer that wrote, among other things, The Wind in the Willows, which I remember well from my childhood.)

The essay was entitled “The Fellow That Goes Alone.” Popova, in her typically lyrical style, says that the essay “serenades the country of the mind” that we visit whenever we take long solitary walks in nature.
Grahame writes:

Nature’s particular gift to the walker, through the semi-mechanical act of walking a gift no other form of exercise seems to transmit in the same high degree is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe certainly creative and supersensitive, until at last it really seems to be outside of you and as if it were talking to you whilst you are talking back to it. Then everything gradually seems to join in, sun and the wind, the white road and the dusty hedges, the spirit of the season, whichever that may be, the friendly old earth that is pushing life firth of every sort under your feet or spell-bound in a death-like winter trance, till you walk in the midst of a blessed company, immersed in a dream-talk far transcending any possible human conversation. Time enough, later, for that… here and now, the mind has shaken off its harness, is snorting and kicking up heels like a colt in a meadow.

He also says this:

As for adventures, if they are the game you hunt, everyone’s experience will remind him that the best adventures of his life were pursued and achieved, or came suddenly to him unsought, when he was alone. For company too often means compromise, discretion, and the choice of the sweetly reasonable. It is difficult to be mad in company; yet but a touch of lunacy in action will open magic doors to rare and unforgettable experiences.

But all these are only the by-products, the casual gains, of walking alone. The high converse, the high adventures, will be in the country of the mind.

But my favorite part of the essay is this sentence:

Not a fiftieth part of all your happy imaginings will you ever, later, recapture, note down, reduce to dull inadequate words; but meantime the mind has stretched itself and had its holiday.

A very close friend of mine, a doctor and PhD in medical science, once told me that the body is designed to be both vertical and in motion. When it can no longer do one of these, it is in danger. When it can no longer do either, it is just a matter of time before death arrives.

I try to walk every day in the morning. Forty minutes to an hour. If I feel like I have a heavy schedule and limited time, I listen to TED Talks or audiobooks. If I feel less tense, I walk without earphones.

When I miss my walk, my day is just a bit less.

For much more about the health benefits of walking, see the latest issue of Independent Healing