What is a walking labyrinth?
Some people seeking a moment of relaxation from the constant motion and sensory overload that today’s busy world offers are turning to an ancient practice for relaxation – walking a labyrinth.
Labyrinths have been around since ancient times and are found in a variety of cultures around the world. Today, you can find labyrinths in churches, hospitals, universities, schools, spas, parks and prisons.
Unlike a maze that has complex paths and dead-ends leading to the center, a labyrinth is simpler. Typically, a labyrinth is a network with a single continuous path that leads to the center and out again. It can be viewed as a metaphor for life’s journey – many twists and turns, but no dead ends.
For those who find it difficult to sit quietly to meditate, walking a labyrinth can be an outlet for releasing stress, calming the mind, centering the body, and gaining insight for personal growth.
“Walking a labyrinth is highly effective for reducing anxiety and producing what’s called the relaxation response,” says Dr. Herbert Benson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Physical and mental benefits of walking a labyrinth include:
- Lowering blood pressure and breathing rates
- Decreasing chronic pain
- Improving sense of conflict resolution
- Lessening of depression symptoms
To commemorate World Labyrinth Day on May 2, people can take part in a walking labyrinth. Even if you’re unable to find a labyrinth near you, you can reap the benefits of this practice by tracing or drawing a finger labyrinth on paper or even using a smartphone app.
“In my chaplaincy work, labyrinths both large and small have become a treasured resource,” says Linnea Winquist, chaplain at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “Appropriate for people of all ages, ethnic and religious backgrounds, labyrinths are remarkably versatile as a resource to enhance well-being, peace of mind and self-awareness.”
About the Author
Patty Heatherly is an occupational therapist in the behavioral health department at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. In partnership with the hospital’s Mission and Spiritual Care Department, a custome made labyrinth was developed in the hospital’s chapel. Walks are provide in the hospital several times a year.