Self Mastery: The Long Walk Benefits Mind and Body
The long walk or hike is my favorite walk of the week, no question. Getting away into the trails is my very favorite getaway. You don’t have to hike trails for your long walk, but it is a time to choose your favorite place to walk and make the most of it. It’s a time when I get to do some of my favorite things … for as long as I want! It's a time I get to spend relaxing, slowing down, taking in nature's beauty, planning projects, socializing with friends, and generally just enjoying being alive. Did I forget to mention walking? Oh yes, most definitely that, too. It’s a time when I get very focused on my core, on my posture, on relaxing, and I know that when I come back I’m going to feel great.
All the things I do when I'm out on my long walk help to deeply nourish my mind and soul. But, what does my body get in return from all this fun I'm having? A number of things. In this article we’ll talk about the enormous, mind and body altering benefits of the long walk and second, how to make your long walk as effective, efficient and enjoyable as possible (hint: in ChiWalking style, learning to relax is a big part of being successful).
The Benefits of the Long Walk for the Body
- Improves aerobic capacity for more efficient oxygen intake
- You’ll become a hybrid, burning different fuels (including fat) more efficiently
- You’ll learn to master your ChiWalking skills
- Your body will learn to be more relaxed, the benefit of which is immeasurable
- You’ll become a master of your body, and be able to accomplish any goal you set for yourself
The Benefits of the Long Walk for the Mind
- Your will learn to focus and relax your mind
- You can enjoy yourself and your surroundings
- You will learn patience as you walk longer and longer distances
- You’ll learn to use your mind to overcome adversity
- You’ll become a master of your mind, and be able to accomplish any goal you set for yourself
The long walk is all about taking the ChiWalking technique and holding it for increasingly longer periods of time.
There is no special measurement for a long walk. What is important is that once a week, you walk a little bit longer – measured either by distance or time – than any of the other individual walks in your weekly program. If you are training for a long distance event, your long walk may eventually build up to the event distance itself a few weeks before your event. You will also be walking at a more relaxed pace than your regular walks. For the long walk, you want to build distance and consistency, not speed.
Become a Hybrid
Keeping your pace well within your aerobic range for longer periods of time will elevate the quality of all your other walks. Increasing your aerobic capacity builds more extensive capillary beds in your muscles and lungs, which in turn trains your body to have a more efficient oxygen exchange. All of this talk is to get you to slow down and take it easy on your long walks. Like I said before. It's not the time for speed.
It's important to do your long walk at a slower speeds for good reason. Generally speaking, anytime you walk for longer than thirty minutes, your body begins burning it's stored fuel in a different way. Instead of being fueled primarily by glycogen (which is a quick-burning, fight-or-flight fuel) your body "learns" to burn the slower-burning fat contained in your muscle fibers and become rather stingy with burning your stored glycogen. It's like your body takes on the qualities of a hybrid car which burns a combination of stored fuel (electricity) and gasoline. In the case of your body, you're burning a mix of fat (stored fuel) and glycogen instead of burning mostly glycogen (gasoline).
There's a lot to be said for practicing the art of staying consistently relaxed for long periods of time. Doing so leaves you with the ability to settle yourself, both physically and mentally. Staying relaxed and smart in the midst of adversity should be every athlete's goal. It's the prime directive of our walking programs and you will ultimately discover, as others have, that it opens up the door to self-mastery.
Here is how to make the most of your long walk:
• Spend the day before hydrating. Drink lots of water all day so your body is well hydrated when you head out on your long walk.
• Avoid any activities that will over tire your legs.
• Eat a good carbohydrate meal the night before. No protein or spicy foods, please. Keep it simple and clean-burning. There's nothing worse than having distress in your lower digestive tract when you're out there on the road.
• Plan your route. Know where you are going to go. Decide whether you will walk a loop or an out and back.
• Let someone know where you are going and roughly what time to expect you back.
• Clothes and equipment: This is a good time to learn to carry a pack or belt for fluids. You don’t want to cut a walk short due to dehydration. Also, if you start your walk in the early morning, be aware that the day may warm up quite a bit while you are out there, so choose your clothes with those thoughts in mind. It may feel like long sleeves and tights when you wake up but after a few minutes of walking you might wish you had on lighter gear.
• On the morning of your walk spend a little extra time doing your ChiWalking body Looseners (pg. 141 of the book) followed by the Grounding Stance and get yourself as relaxed as you possibly can. There's no need to bring along any tension here.
Here are things to keep you focused while you're out there on your walk:
• Set the countdown timer on your watch to beep every 10 minutes to remind you to check in with your posture, your ChiWalking technique, your level of relaxation, and to drink a mouthful of water.
• Practice your ChiWalking skills. Look at the list of focuses at the end of Chapter Four in the ChiWalking book (pg. 99 of the book) and pick two or three to work on throughout your walk.
• Let your mind and body get into the consistent rhythm of your cadence. It can be very relaxing and meditative. Just watching your footsteps keeps you in the moment and takes your mind off of how far you've come or how far you're going. It brings you back into the present moment which knocks out any chance of boredom and builds patience (which we could all use more of).
As I said, I look forward to my long walk all week. I enjoy every minute of being out walking and I know when I come back I’ll be in that great space that only a long walk brings on…a relaxed, pleasantly fatigued, peaceful place of knowing I’ve just benefited my whole being.