how hiking heals

The other day I had a twiddle with my social media feeds. It was one of those nights we all have – where we go down that rabbit hole of toggling between feeds to see…to see…what other people are doing and thinking and seeing… and what they’re thinking of us. It’s both comforting and disconcerting. It’s like picking a pimple…wrong and yet so viscerally satisfying. We all do it. We all have those nights. I don’t care what you say.

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So I twiddled my Instagram profile. Changed the picture. And changed my little bio line to include this:

“I have a crankin’ auto immune disease that I tame with food and hiking.”

I wrote it. Then I realised the potency of it. Yes, food and hiking are how I manage my illness. I’ve been doing it for years. And I only just – in that late-night pimple-picking-ish moment – appreciated exactly why I’ve done it. It’s because it works.

Let’s talk hiking. Hiking is my default travel raison d’etre. When you travel solo, you have to create a travel raison d’etre. Couples and groups of friends have shared experiences and the very process of negotiating and compromising becomes a motivating and guiding raison d’etre in and of itself. It creates boundaries. When you’re on your own you can literally do whatever you want. So you have to reign things in and create a framework of purpose. It needs to be a framework that can stand up to the loneliness of moments, and the most angst-ridden existential meltdowns. Hiking does this.

PS I’ve recorded all my hiking journeys around the world and in Australia too with the hashtags #worldwanders #hike #bushexcursion

PPS I’ve written a hiking guide to Iceland, Provence and Andalucia.

But it also does more. As I say, it tames and heals any dis-ease, whether it be illness, angst, pain, longing, frustration, imbalance. Here’s how:

* Hiking grounds us. Literally – in that it connects us with the earth. With dirt, rocks, trees, ants. I’ve touched on this “wilderness effect” and the importance of connecting with negative ions in soil before.

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* Hiking gets systems working as they should. Walking is the best thing ever for anyone with lymphatic issues. When I’m thyroidy, I hike and my swelling settles. It also builds up appetite in a natural way…not in an overly taxing way. And it gets us out into fresh air. Again the wilderness effect. But, also, there are longevity and wellness claims to be made here. As many centenarians have.

I’ve also written about why walking is the best exercise around.

* Hiking gets us in touch with awe. For me, trudging over rocks and earth for hours on end puts things in perspective. Life feels big, I – and my pain – feel small. This heals.

* Hiking lulls the mind. My mind chatter goes crazy at first – inventing, debating, scheduling – then it settles, slowly. It’s like my mind is rocked to sleep by the motion. After about 40 minutes it settles into a thoughtless, wordless space. I become aware only of the sounds, the smells…I’m taken away from my dis-ease. I’m comforted and comfortable. I can feel my angry inflammation settle, too. Oh, sweet nothing! For thyroid types like myself, it’s in the nothingness that things are tamed.

It’s in the space between things – the noise, the activity, the trying so hard – that we heal.

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* Hiking gets us present. This is key. Let me explain. When you hike over a long period in tough conditions (heat, rocks, steepness) you must enter the moment. You must focus on the here and now. This is because as soon as your mind wanders to thoughts of the finish line or of what you’re going to eat for dinner or whether you have enough water for the distance or how tired you’re feeling, you lose your mojo. Your heart sinks. It hurts. Instead, you must keep trudging and enjoying the trudging. The crunch of the rocks under foot. The cicadas. The smell of the fig trees. This is not even something you have to choose. You must do it, to keep going. To not feel like you’re going to throw up. As soon as I start trying to calculate how much further it is to go, I feel a stab of sickness in the gut and I’m forced back to the present. What a gift, hey! Time passes so pleasantly, steered and corralled by the pain of future thinking.

* Hiking gets us to love going slow. I can be in pain sometimes when I hike. I don’t have juice. But if I’m 7km from home, I have to keep going. How?

I go slow. I break it down. I find the perfect pace. The sweet spot. 

And just this act – finding your sweet spot – is a key skill in healing dis-ease. To know how to find YOUR sweet spot, that’s true wellness.

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How do you hike? Do you hike to heal? To have travel purpose?

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