Walking is man’s best medicine. – Hippocrates
Walking has become a much larger part of my life over the past few years. It started when I embraced kinhin – walking meditation. Walking slowly on the beach for an hour or so, one step per breath, barefoot and silent to engage all of the senses. The mind is calmed, allowing reality and ideas to flow in. Since then I’ve added regular walking, averaging over 15,000 steps a day, and actively trying to increase that average each week.
Over forty years ago, growing up in Peru, my parents would take us on grand walking tours of Lima and other cities every weekend. Hours on end, probably a hundred miles or so a day – at least it seemed like that to a young kid. I hated it at the time, but looking back I’m very thankful for the experience. Living overseas widens perspectives and creates understanding and acceptance.
I lost that walking fever when I returned to the U.S. to go to college. Perhaps it was the notorious icy blizzards of upstate New York, but somehow a walk down to the dorm kegerator seemed sufficient. Anything else required begging a ride from someone lucky enough to own a car. After college I’d use a car to drive a block to the store. Pathetic. And I didn’t realize what I was missing. I did know I wasn’t missing the pounds that slowly crept onto someone who used to be on the high school swim team.
A few years ago, and especially over the last two years, I started to work hard to get into better shape. Crossfit, running on the beach, even running a marathon. It’s worked and I feel great (thanks, Paul Akers!). But I realized that even though I looked for opportunities to exercise, I was still driving just a few blocks to the gym, post office, bank, and so forth. Our little beach town isn’t large – just 10,000 people. Is driving really necessary?
So one day I walked to the gym, then the next day to the post office, then the next day to lunch. Within a week I was hooked. Soon I was taking a few hours on Saturday morning to walk to the end of our 6 mile beach, and back. Now when I travel I have to find time for walking. While at the AME conference in Boston a few weeks ago I was able to convince a few colleagues to walk the several miles to dinner. Great sights, great conversation, great exercise.
You see, I discovered it’s not just about exercise, although it’s amazing what just a few thousand steps a day will do to your body.
Walking calms your mind. Even if you don’t formally practice kinhin, walking slowly, preferably without supplemental audio, lets your thoughts slow and settle. After even a short walk you feel more balanced, upbeat, and creative.
Walking lets you (and teaches you?) observe at the speed of reality. I’ve been surprised at what I’ve found in our small town, even though I’ve lived here for seventeen years. Just the other day I noticed a plaque buried in what used to be a garden across the street from city hall. Looking closer, I discovered it was in memory to a Hope Miller, and later I looked her up and learned an interesting story about our town. I’m sad that the garden planted in her memory two decades ago has become unruly. Maybe I’ll change that.
Walking lets you meet and get to know new people. On my long walks I’ve met several neighbors, merchants, and tourists from around the world. Some of these connections have turned into new friendships. While walking to dinner at the AME conference I was able to get to learn more about a couple team members that I rarely see in person since we’re in different offices.
In the lean world we know the power of going to the gemba to observe the reality of the value creating process, to help team members see through your eyes, and to challenge processes. Walking, even around your neighborhood, can be similar – and more.
Slip on those shoes, step outside, and take a few steps!