Labyrinth walking involves a meditative walk along a set circular pathway that goes to the centre and comes back out. Labyrinths can also be “walked” online or on a grooved board following the curved path with a finger.
Life is not always easy, and our dreams are not always fulfilled in the manner we first anticipated. Yet, like on a labyrinth, each step along the path leads us closer to our destined goal, even when that goal is unexpectedly different that we once imagined. Life happens. People change. Illness, injury or even death occurs when we are least prepared and are most vulnerable.
A History of Labyrinth Walking
Labyrinths are ancient patterns found all over the world, and while it is uncertain as to their origin, the Hopi Indians of North America had a symbol for Mother Earth known today as the “Classical Seven-Path Labyrinth.” It was this symbol of the Mother which identified the sacred in nature – that spiralling form found throughout nature. Labyrinths were woven into objects to personify man’s connection to his source and were often placed at sacred places in nature to remind him of this union. When one walks the labyrinth it is in recreating this very ancient expression of thanks and remembrance of the divine in all things.
Our ancestors knew that the divine in nature was an extension of their own humanity and depended on this relationship to support their very existence.
The Labyrinth is an extension of man’s desire to co-create with nature. When man consecrates space in nature as sacred he heals a part of himself.
The earth has the capacity to heal us just as we have this capacity to heal the earth, it is a symbiotic relationship. In ages past when people worked closely with the earth the first and best fruits of the harvest were always returned to the Mother in thanks for her many gifts.
Labyrinths are temples that enhance and balance and bring a sense of the sacred – a place where we can
confirm our unity with the cosmos, awaken our vital force and elevate our consciousness.
Spiralling inward and out, this serpentine flow is the most generative form of subtle energy. The process of moving through the pathway unwinds this stored energy, releasing, magnifying, and ultimately harnessing the flow. Working directly in conjunction with the human energy fields this spiraling flow interacts with the kundalini energy coiled at the base of our spine converting the subtle energy into life force itself. This uncoiling of the kundalini vitalises us through a process of unfolding both upwards and inwards, an exhalation and ingathering of energies known as the dance of creation.
Resonating to the vibration of “seven” the Classical Labyrinth has a direct correlation with the primary Chakras, Tones on the scale, and Colors of the Rainbow. Equated with the brain many cultures believed that the labyrinth could cure illness. Today the labyrinth is known to have a curative effect on certain ailments by producing a sense of well-being and balance through a type of vestibular stimulation, accessing both left and right hemispheres of the brain.
In the Middle Ages, walking a cathedral labyrinth was a substitute for going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Not everyone could make the long and arduous journey to the Holy Land, so walking a labyrinth in a church was a devotional activity. Today meandering labyrinths are often used as walking meditations, to focus the mind and put the walker in tune with the greater reality metaphorically represented by the labyrinth.
Labyrinth Walking as a Complementary Therapy
Unlike mazes, which are designed to confuse users, labyrinths consist of a single path that winds its way from the outside of the circle to the centre and back out again. Not only are they being used to complement traditional cancer treatment, but they are also a supportive measure for family members and caregivers.
Meditation is often recommended for those diagnosed with cancer to help reduce stress, to gain perspective, and to work through emotions. Dr Stevenson believes walking a labyrinth is helpful for those who have trouble with conventional meditation. “Your body is moving, so you’re controlling your mind a little bit, just with the process of walking,” she says.
Following the circle’s gentle twists and turns engages the body, and walkers often describe a feeling of being rocked and soothed. As they progress along the path toward the centre, walkers’ thoughts turn inward. Stevenson says this connectedness to the inner self persists long after leaving the labyrinth.
Some users report profound experiences: connecting with their spirituality or experiencing extreme peace. Others report less dramatic effects such as feeling of release of centeredness.
Public health nurse Diana Ng, known in Surrey, BC, as the Labyrinth Lady, reminds clients to forgo expectations. “Experience the experience for itself. Just walk it. Enjoy it.”
Ng also suggests those with cancer may benefit from a labyrinth walking group. Even though walking the labyrinth is a solitary activity, Ng believes that a group can provide support and prevent feelings of isolation.
Not only does labyrinth walking foster peace and calmness, but it also adds the benefits of physical activity. Low- to moderate-intensity walking has been found to increase muscle strength, lower blood pressure, and improve mental function.
Because labyrinth walking has only recently been used in a health care context, there are relatively few scientific studies on the subject.
A 2006 study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing concluded more study was needed into the exact physical effects of the activity.
It noted, however, that the majority of cancer patients in the study continued to walk the labyrinth after the study was over — an indication that they found some benefit.
How Do I Walk the Labyrinth?
Before starting, take several slow deep breaths to clear your mind.
Step into the labyrinth. Follow the path at a comfortable pace, allowing your body to find its own rhythm. Keep your mind clear and in the moment. If this is difficult, try repeating a poem, a prayer, or reflect on a dream or image. This stage is called releasing, or journeying in.
When you reach the centre you are in the receiving stage. Focus your thoughts on healing, renewal, and wholeness. Sit or stand until you feel the inclination to move on.
Once you choose to leave the centre you begin the returning phase, a gradual return to the everyday world. Reflect on your journey through the labyrinth.
If you are part of a group, you may want to have a debriefing session afterward to discuss how people felt during the walk, or you may want to take a few minutes to journal about the experience.
Side Effects or Risks
There are no known side effects or risks to walking a labyrinth – the only thing individuals may feel is a sense of Possibility, Peace, Compassion, and Fulfilment.
Those without access to a life-sized labyrinth can use a small hand-held replica and follow the pattern with a finger of their non-dominant hand. These are useful for guided meditation during chemotherapy, or prior to radiation or surgery.
Whether one walks the labyrinth in an outdoor space or at one’s bedside, the journey through the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey through life… and just like life, it is an experience unique to each person.
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use. LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.
Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.