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The labyrinth at the
Happahatchee Center
in Estero.


A walking meditation
involving a labyrinth
can provide mental,
physical, and
spiritual comfort.


HOW TO
WALK A LABYRINTH

1. The first part is called purgation. During this step, think about what is causing stress as you begin the walk.
2. The second phase is called illumination. This occurs at the center of the labyrinth. Stop and listen and breathe.
3. The third phase is called union. This is when you return to the entrance refreshed and perhaps with the answers you seek.


LABYRINTHS IN
THE FORT MYERS AREA

• Hope Hospice: 2430 Diplomat Pkwy E, Cape Coral. Rock/garden style labyrinth. 482-4673.
• Happehatchee Center: 8791 Corkscrew Rd, Estero. Made of shells. 992-5455.
• Lehigh Labyrinth: 24 Massachusetts Rd, Lehigh Acres. Labyrinth is private, but open to the public by appointment only. It is a seven circuit labyrinth made of stone. 851-7827.
• Mother of God House of Prayer & Spiritual Growth Center: 17880 Cypress Creek Rd, Alva. Has an outdoor, public labyrinth. It is a medieval 7 circle labyrinth. 728-3614.
• Naples Botanical Gardens: 4820 Bayshore Dr, Naples. 643-7275.
• St. Mary’s Episcopal Church: 9801 Bonita Beach Rd, Bonita Springs. A Chartres type of labyrinth. 992-4343
• United Church of Christ: 5200 Crayton Rd, Naples. Has a Chartres type of labyrinth. 617-650-5225.


There are numerous
designs for a labyrinth,
but all are circular
pathways of which
seven circles is the classic.


WORLD LABYRINTH DAY
Celebrate the eighth annual
World Labyrinth Day
on Saturday, May 7.
The Labyrinth Society
invites everyone to
‘Walk as One at 1’
that afternoon, joining others
around the globe to create
a wave of peaceful energy
washing across the time zones.
The Happehatchee Center,
located at 8791 Corkscrew Rd.
in Estero, is hosting a
meditative labyrinth walk,
starting at 12:30pm with
a brief overview of labyrinths
before entering as a group
at 1pm, followed by a
closing ceremony at 2pm.
Suggested donation $10.
For information, call
The Happahatchee Center
at 992-5455.

HEALTH & WELLNESS

Walk It Away

by Nancy J. Schaaf


TODAY'S WORLD IS HECTIC. Even living in the beautiful Ft. Myers area with its sunshine, warm temperatures and Gulf views, we still have stressors in our lives. Hurricanes, economy, road rage, mass shootings, and terrorism all contribute to our stress levels. When the stress becomes overpowering, it begins to affect us physically, emotionally and mentally with detrimental consequences to our well-being.

The repercussions of stress are numerous. We can experience abdominal and intestinal upsets, frequent headaches, body aches, and cold sores. We eat a diet rich in fats and sugars which increases our risks of heart attack and stroke. We become depressed, experience sleep disturbances and eating disorders. We become addicted to alcohol, smoking, and we abuse illegal drugs and legal drugs such as pain medications. Our bodies cannot take this abuse without permanent damage.

Medical science has long known the benefits of physical activity. A daily walk can help us live a healthier life because it can help us maintain a healthy weight. Walking improves our coordination and balance by building strong bones and muscles. Our mood improves due to the release of natural endorphins. Walking improves our sleep and can prevent or manage such conditions as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Meditation had been practiced for thousands of years. Today, meditation is commonly used for relaxation and the reduction of stress. While meditating, we focus our mind and eliminate the jumbled thoughts often referred to as ‘monkey mind.’ There are several emotional benefits to meditation. By achieving this calm inner peace, we can build skills to manage stress, can focus more on the present, and can reduce negative emotions.

Meditation shows promise with physical benefits such as “managing symptoms associated with anxiety disorders, asthma, depression, heart disease, sleep problems, and pain” according to A. Sood, the author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living.

Scientists have long known that separately exercise and meditation are both appropriate stress reducers. But a combination of exercise and meditation is a dynamic method to ease stress. A walking meditation involving a labyrinth can provide mental, physical, and spiritual comfort. Labyrinth walking is an excellent means to bring a sense of calm to our lives.

What is a labyrinth? Many people confuse this spiritual path with a maze. A maze is meant to confuse and will have several ways out. Think of the corn mazes popular at Halloween. However, a labyrinth has only one way in and one way out. There are numerous designs for a labyrinth, but all are circular pathways of which 7 circles is the classic. By following the path of the circles, we are directed to the center of the labyrinth.

Generally, as we prepare to enter the labyrinth, we focus, think of a problem, a situation for which we seek answers. As we begin the walk, this is foremost in our mind. We cannot get lost as we are following a path that is circular and leads to a center and then back to the beginning. It therefore is easier to concentrate on the focused issue. When we reach the center, it is appropriate to stop, breathe and listen for a response to our question. We then proceed to stroll back to the beginning hopefully feeling refreshed and perhaps with an answer to what we seek. Following this circular path calms the mind; we feel an inner peace.

The labyrinth, an ancient resource which assists our meditation by uniting our mind, body, and spirit, is currently seeing a revival in popularity. Labyrinths are found in spas and retreats, in museums, in churches, in hospitals and in public parks. It is a remarkable tool allowing a person to quiet his mind, to find balance, and to encourage meditation and insight into one’s soul.

Walking a labyrinth is a centuries used art that has roots in the ancient cultures of the Mayans, Celtics, Greeks and Native Americans. By walking these ancient sacred pathways that follow a spiritual design, we meditate and focus on the present time. We become enlightened as we focus on this calming journey.
Why utilize a labyrinth when perhaps a walk around the neighborhood will offer the same physical health benefits? When walking in a neighborhood, there are many distractions including neighbors, the uneven sidewalk, the animals, the lawn and housing décor. These distractions can take away our focus and we return to ‘monkey mind’ which is a muddle of thoughts. By using a labyrinth, we follow a distinct path, not bothered with distractions and can focus out thoughts more easily. Perhaps trying a labyrinth for several walks until you feel you can focus is a good idea. If you live too far from a labyrinth, you may want to use it occasionally or until you feel you can control the constant brain chatter. Once you can, then add the neighborhood stroll and be more focused on your thoughts. I like a walking meditation because it engages mind, body and spirit.
There have been studies and research on the benefits of the labyrinth walk. Many anecdotal stories attest to people feeling calmer and more at peace and less stressed after completing a labyrinth walk. Herbert Benson, MD, is the founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. In his book, Relaxation Revolution, he states “more than 30 years of research shows that the relaxation response brings slower breathing, a slower heart rate, and lower blood pressure.” In his research at the Institute, he has found “that focused walking meditations are highly efficient at reducing anxiety and eliciting the ‘relaxation response’ which has significant long term health benefits.” These benefits according to Dr. Benson, include lowering blood pressure and breathing rates, reduced incidents of chronic pain, reduction of insomnia, and with regular meditative practice, an increase in concentration abilities.

The labyrinth can be “instrumental in releasing mental and physical tension. Because it is both kinesthetic and introspective, the labyrinth walk functions as a complete mind-body integrative activity,” says J. M. Peel.

The United States Department of Health & Human Services states that scientific evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation such as labyrinth walking may help to reduce the symptoms of stress including anxiety and depression.

In the Fort Myers area, we are fortunate to have several labyrinths available for our walking meditation. We can enjoy the sunshine, warm temperatures and exercise our bodies and ease our spirits all at the same time by walking these sacred paths engaging our spirits while offering a period of time for reflection.
By walking, we relieve some of the physical stresses and the meditation is a means of calming our inner spirits. Veriditas, the prominent authority regarding labyrinths, states on the organization’s website, “Labyrinths are currently being used world-wide as a way to quiet the mind, recover a balance in life, and encourage meditation, insight, self-reflection, stress reduction, and to discover innovation and celebration.”

A walking meditation utilizing a labyrinth is an exceptional method to combine the benefits of physical exercise with the calming stress reducing effects of meditation. •


May-June 2016