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Walking for Healing

Hey hey hey!

I’m finally starting 2021 here! Today I have a very special guest post: Robyn Fisher!

Robyn is a fellow writer that I got the chance to meet in one of my writer’s group. Besides being adorable, she has an incredible musical talent and simply the MOST AMAZING STORIES.

So please enjoy this delightful blog post.

robyn_passow_fisher-Headshot

Meet the author: After Robyn Fisher’s husband died of in 2017, she went on Pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago in Spain, sold her home of 25 years and finished her forthcoming memoir, You Remind Me Who I Am: A Memoir of True Love and Lewy Body Dementia. She’s a writer, blogger, and podcaster who writes about healing from loss, walking, hiking, and mid-life reinvention. She divides her time between the Pacific Northwest and Maui, and documents her mostly daily walks on Instagram.

Walking for Healing

by Robyn Fisher

Last summer I wrote a piece on grief for a friend’s life coaching website. My friend asked me to share a little bit of my process and provide helpful ideas for others who were also dealing with loss. At that point my husband hadn’t even been gone three years yet. One of the self-care suggestions I offered up in my essay was about how much walking had been key to getting me through some of the darkest moments, especially during that first year. 

The morning my piece went live, however, I had an anxiety attack.

It was weird.

Why is this happening? Wasn’t this what I wanted? I thought.

Often there’s no rhyme or reason with grief-created anxiety. It’s a storm that you just have to weather. That anxiety attack took me totally by surprise, and it was also a moment for me to practice what I preach.

So, I went for a walk.

Lahaina Pali trail in Maui by robyn fischer

Focus

Here’s the thing about walking. When I walk, my attention moves from the crazy trapped thoughts and emotions of grief, to physical sensations, like my boot laces, which need tightening, or the little hitch in my hip, which needs loosening.

We create what we focus on, right? Walking helps transfer focus from panic to calm. It works. For me, it doesn’t happen immediately, because when I walk, I usually start out pretty slow, and it takes time for me to find my stride. I tend to walk a few steps then stop and do a runner’s stretch, or I reach down and touch my toes to loosen up my lower back. The creaks in my hip and knees start to smooth out and my pace becomes more regular as everything starts to relax.

Perspective

When I was nine years old, my father took me on a two-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. After hiking down the Bright Angel trail, I stopped and looked up at the blue sky framed by canyon’s rim. A sense of awe overtook me, and I remember repeating out loud several times I am inside the Grand Canyon, I am inside the Grand Canyon. I had a child’s religious experience that day. I felt small, and I felt big at the same time. I knew I was part of something wondrous, bigger than just me. Even then, I knew that what I was doing, hiking the Grand Canyon, was a hard thing, but I was capable. I never doubted that I could make it.

All these years later, after my husband died, I heard my father’s voice loud and clear in my head.

Go take a long walk.

My husband died in the fall, and that spring I flew to Europe and walked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across Spain. I walked from Earth Day to Memorial Day that year, averaging 12-15 miles a day, staying in albergues (pilgrim dorms).

I walked to experience new perspectives. I walked to find my own pace of life, which had been hidden under the needs of my family for a lot of years. I learned that I don’t need much in the way of stuff or physical possessions. I walked to feel with certainty that I can make it on my own two feet.

Robyn_and_dad_1978_hiking in Arizona

Breathe

These days on my daily walks, my attention moves from my emotions and thoughts, to my leg muscles, my joints, and the air moving in and out of my lungs. My short panicky breaths become longer, and I feel more in control. As I move my muscles and my heart rate elevates a little, my body recognizes that it needs more oxygen. My lungs respond accordingly. My focus moves to my breath as I fill up my lungs and feel the relaxation response in my body and soul.

Relax

In my previous married-with-children life chapter, I taught high school. I loved being a teacher, and I also struggled with back spasms from sitting long periods of time planning or grading papers. A walk or hike in the mountains always loosened up my back. Looking back, I’m sure it wasn’t just the sitting that tightened up my back, but also my feelings of emotional overwhelm. Back then, I was a woman on a mission who always had too much on my plate and was always juggling.

Walking on a regular basis strengthens and tones legs and core. Mostly, an hour or two on a trail is an hour or two of physical, emotional and spiritual self-care. I know that when I am walking, I am nurturing myself, and the overwhelm loses its power.

Hydrate

On a daily walk I’m out for at least an hour and a half, and I take a water bottle. When I’m just hanging around at home, I don’t always think about drinking enough water or staying hydrated. When I’m walking, and carrying water, I am reminded, and I drink more. Simple as that.

Sunrise beach walk

Meditate

I especially love it when I can walk without a time schedule, when I can go as far as I want to, when I don’t have to be back at any certain time. My thoughts ramble, and the clutter in my mind clears. I take a backpack with a snack and water. I breathe in rhythm with my steps. I listen to music or a podcast, or nothing. As I write this, I am in Maui, staying with family for the winter, and here, most of my walks have been on beaches. There is no argument that I always come back from a long walk in a good mood.

Get Started

To get started on a regular walking regimen, first make sure you have the right clothes and shoes. I wear light hiking pants or shorts with pockets. Some people like to walk in runner’s leggings or yoga pants. I suggest trail socks and shoes with good soles, tread and arches. Be comfortable! I almost always wear hiking boots with ankle support when on a trail. Here in Maui, I wear sport sandals with good arches. On the beach, I walk barefoot in the sand.

If you’re new to walking or hiking, purchase a good day pack with a hip belt and stock it with the 10 essentials. Find hikes through your local trail association or the AllTrails app on your phone, and get a hiking partner. There are hiking clubs and meetups in every community, facebook groups for finding hikes, beautiful Rails-to-Trails, and even local Parks and Recreation organized hikes. There are so many choices and opportunities to walk alone, with a partner or in a social group.

When I’m back in the Pacific Northwest, I find local trails for daily walks, and head to the mountains for longer all-day hikes and more challenging climbs. I dream of a long thru-hike, back to Spain on the Camino in our post pandemic world, and on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Arizona Trail, or the Appalachian Trail for another multi-day challenge in the wilderness. I’m ready for the next level of healing.

The more you walk or hike, the more confidence you will gain, the more you will get to know your comfort zone and how far to stretch it.

The Ten Essentials to Take on A Wilderness Hike

  1. Navigation: map, compass, or personal GPS device. You can download maps from the AllTrails app to your phone to have when you are out of cell range.
  2. Headlamp or flashlight with an extra set of batteries.
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, hat, and sunscreen
  4. First aid: I carry bandages, knee braces, duct tape, ointment, ibuprofen and allergy medicine.
  5. Knife
  6. Matches
  7. Shelter: an emergency blanket or light tarp on a day hike
  8. Extra food
  9. Extra water
  10. Extra clothes
Camino 2018

6 thoughts on “Walking for Healing”

  1. Hi, Robyn…. I loved this article. And I saw myself when you mentioned the back issue. I rarely sat in my classroom but you’re right about the planning and grading part, there was a lot of sitting!
    While I don’t do a lot of outdoor walking, when I do have a chance, I find that I have a lot of thoughts, solve a lot of problems, and I always feel less stressed when I return. I think it’s because I have taken time just for me Thank you for doing your blog and for sharing other places where we can find information on how to make our lives better. miss you!

  2. Your spirit speaks of adventure, of assuring yourself of healing. Thanks for reminding all of us, especially those who have lost a spouse, of what we can do if we are compassionate with ourselves.

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