Walk

By: Michael L. Tan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | May 26,2021 - 08:30 AM

Writer’s block? Depressed? Angry? Blood pressure shooting up?

Walk, and it’s more than for just the four problems I have named.

The pandemic has converted many of us into couch potatoes, content with staying indoors with the false sense of security that we won’t catch COVID-19. That’s not quite true of course, given that the overwhelming majority (some estimates running as high as 99 percent) of infections take place indoors.

But even if you don’t catch COVID-19, you run other risks from self-imposed sequestration.

That depression might be coming from the stale indoor air where everyone’s exhaled carbon dioxide is accumulating with too little fresh oxygen coming in from outdoors. The Filipino feeling of “kulob” is not so much a claustrophobic feeling than malaise induced by the carbon dioxide.

No wonder you can’t think. No wonder tempers flare.

Take the walk with someone you love and you get even more feel-good chemicals, this time oxytocin, also known as the kissing hormone. You don’t need a public display of affection to get the oxytocin—even holding hands, but make sure it’s with someone who’s been living with you so you’re more or less sure they haven’t been exposed to COVID-19. With time, too, we’ll have more and more people who have been fully vaccinated so you can certainly walk close together.

Walking brings about mindfulness. You clear the mind of clutter, which allows fresh ideas to emerge. Zen (and its Chinese equivalent Chan) Buddhism prescribes not just sitting but walking meditation, often integrated: 25 minutes of sitting followed by a five-minute walk around the room.

Outdoors, the potentials of walking meditation are expanded. With more space, you can go into a brisk pace, swinging arms forward and backward in rhythm with the movement of your legs. Your heart rate and breathing pick up and you end up doing a slow jog.

Even nerdy academics have discovered how walking is good not just for the body but for the mind. My constant academic collaborator, Anita Hardon over at the University of Amsterdam, and I have shared many long walks, in different countries, in different settings (forests, beaches, or just a quiet road), brainstorming while walking, whether to hatch up a new project, ironing out problems in ongoing ones, or analyzing the data we’ve collected.

Anita is a popular mentor and says her best advising sessions with students are, you guessed it, walking ones. I thought about initiating that with my students, maybe around the academic oval of UP Diliman, but got overtaken by the pandemic.

I was, fortunately, stranded in the Diliman campus when the

pandemic began and did find so much comfort in long, solitary walks.

Well, almost solitary—I’d take Chi, my emotional support dachshund with me and she loved them.

Yes, dogs do need the exercise. Keep them young with the outdoor walks, where they’re stimulated by the sights and sounds and, best of all, smells of nature which might, unfortunately, include rolling on another dog’s you-know-what.

It’s a dog solidarity thing.

Use walks to iron out smaller conflicts, parent and child, spouses or partners, workplace colleagues. Outdoors, you

reduce the chance of pouncing on and beating up each other.

We do need to improve the image of walking, still seen as a sign of being poor, or of low status. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten incredulous reactions from people when, as chancellor, I’d skip taking the official vehicle and just walk to an event.

“Lakad kayo, chancellor?” people’s tone much like the ones I used to get when I’d buy taho from a vendor, “Kumakain kayo ng taho?”

Why not, I’d respond, and why not eating taho while walking?!

Yes, you do need positive motivation for walking. With the pandemic, walking hasn’t always been a choice, many walking to work, long ones under the hot sun or strong rain, because of the lack of pubic transportation.

Some time we should have advocacy walking, also known as a protest march, to call attention to the need for better and safer public transportation. We should take to the streets, too, to liberate minors and seniors from forced sequestration, which deprives them (us) of healthy walking, with sunlight and fresh air.

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