Changing the Way I Walk

Written by Alanna Rossi, Illustrations by Jaclyn Simon

What does a walk mean to you? Is it a way to get to your destination? Is it something you do with friends and coffee on the weekend? Is it time alone to listen to a podcast uninterrupted? A walk means something different to everyone. It’s a simple enough thing to do. Put on some comfortable shoes, dress accordingly for the weather, and set out for however long and far you like. You don’t even need somewhere to go – you could walk on and on without actually ending up anywhere. Walking is second nature to many of us and a huge part of our everyday lives, yet it’s something we give very little thought to. When was the last time you asked yourself why you walk?

My relationship with walking hit a bit of a rough patch recently. Throughout the Covid pandemic of 2020 and 2021, daily walks around my neighbourhood were a way to stay connected to my community and to get away from my desk. Our small apartment had turned into a home office (still is, nearly two years later) and I found myself needing to get outside to reset. As an introvert, I love being home. I am fortunate enough to have a space that I love to spend time in, but even me, a bonafide homebody, was starting to feel restless. So, the daily walks were required to keep myself sane. On these walks, I took photos of things I saw that caught my eye. A lush garden, a pretty street, the perfect rose. I grew to know our neighbourhood intimately. I recognized houses and people and even the neighbourhood cats. I walked almost the same route every day and the familiarity was comforting. It was the first time in my life where I recognized the value in going for walks, not just for something to do or for my physical health, but as a way to reset and give my mind time to work through the stress of living through a global pandemic. 

I suffer from social anxiety, like a lot of people. As the pandemic went on (and on and on), my anxiety worsened and it finally reached the point where going for my daily walk felt incredibly difficult. When I did go, the act of doing it was so mentally draining, I didn’t want to do it again. Instead of going for my usual solo walk, I relied on my fiancé to keep me company. I became even more comfortable being at home where it was “safe” (from what, I couldn’t tell you … brains are weird), and like most things, the less you do it, the easier it is to just … not do it. It’s a frustrating cycle that is all too easy to get caught in. 

Fortunately, therapy is a thing that exists. When I brought up my anxiety with my counsellor, I stressed the importance of wanting to reclaim that part of my routine. Moving your body feels good and is one of the best things to do if you suffer from anxiety or depression, but any anxious or depressed person would tell you that doing the thing that will make you feel better is sometimes the hardest thing to do. At least in my own experience. 

I am happy to report that I’ve been going on my walks again. It feels so good to be back out in my neighbourhood, walking the familiar route I used to walk every day. As a voracious reader, I took this opportunity to do some reading. I wanted to read about other people’s experiences with walking and why they do it. There are a lot of books out there about walking covering a wide range of subjects. Not only did reading about it make me want to walk more, but I also have a whole new appreciation for the humble stroll. For such a simple thing that many of us do throughout the day without even thinking about it, it has amazing benefits for our physical, mental and even spiritual health. 

One of the books I read is a lovely little book by Libby DeLana titled “Do/Walk,” and in the book she describes her daily walks (Libby refers to them as “MorningWalks”) as an act of “radical self care.” She has walked every day without fail for the past ten years, and has walked the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe. Libby stresses the importance of walking without worrying about the distance or the pace and to just do it every day. She writes “I had no idea the impact a simple, gentle walk would have on my life. The impact comes not only from the actual physical walking but also from the discipline, the practice, the commitment.”


Besides the obvious health benefits walking provides, such as lower blood pressure, better sleep, higher energy levels (it’s an extensive list of benefits!), walking also has a powerful impact on creativity. As a writer, I am often looking for ways to feel more inspired. Personally, whenever I feel stuck I go for a walk. Being outside restarts something inside of me, and I can usually sort out whatever was bothering me in the first place. When you’re outside walking, I encourage you to pay attention to what’s around you. Being observant and using your senses can help encourage creative thought. My favourite parts of my walks are when I encounter the local wildlife. Whether it’s sociable chickadees at a feeder or an industrious squirrel, these small interactions always put a smile on my face. Scent can also provoke creative thought. I love when I can smell pine in the air or woodsmoke from someone’s fireplace in the winter or honeysuckle in the summer. There is a corner in our neighbourhood that always smells like chai tea, which is an incredibly comforting smell. 

In “Do/Walk”, the author writes “walking awakens the senses and forces the brain to use multiple parts,” and “…to dedicate time to a subject, to allow for deep thinking and to use all of our senses in that process: this is the way to true creativity and perhaps invention.” So, if you’re ever feeling uninspired or suffering from writer’s block – or are just feeling a little bleh – go outside for a walk. Explore your neighbourhood. Be observant. 

A few years ago, while visiting Pender Island, I purchased a book from a local bookstore. It was an old book, a little tired looking and missing it’s dust cover, but the title caught my eye – “Nature Diary of a Quiet Pedestrian” by Philip Croft. Mr. Croft kept a diary of his daily walks in his neighbourhood in West Vancouver. He described himself as an “inveterate pedestrian” and wrote “… I like to walk alone; I prefer to be a quiet pedestrian, to walk and think, not walk and converse. In this respect, my hour afoot is apt to be the most useful and productive hour of my day, for it is a time during which I am able, to a measured footfall, to think many things through uninterruptedly, to a logical or practical conclusion.” He further described it as his “time for meditation and reflection.” The book details an entire year of his walks, and includes illustrations that the author did himself of the plants and birds he observed along the way. It was  published in 1986 and the neighbourhood where he used to walk has changed, but there is something magical about being able to read his words about what it used to be like. It’s a love letter to his neighbourhood and his daily ritual. If you ever get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend it. 

This is all to say that a walk can be so much more than just something to get out of the way. They can be insightful and meaningful and have a purpose to them far beyond doing it to just get your steps in for the day. I am actively trying to be more observant when I set out on my daily walks. I try to not listen to a podcast or audiobook, choosing instead to be fully engaged with my surroundings. The days where I don’t have my headphones in are usually the days I feel more refreshed after my walk. There are days where I don’t feel like thinking about something and want to check out, and that’s where my audiobooks come in handy. I will say that if you walk alone (particularly at night) please always be aware of your surroundings and be sure to let someone know where you are. 

Where you go for your walks isn’t really all that important, but if you have access to one,  walking in a forest is one of life’s biggest joys. Living in Vancouver provides no shortage of greenspace to enjoy. We are quite literally surrounded by nature. Being amongst the trees and away from the sights and sounds of the city flips a switch inside of my brain. I can be in the worst of moods, and after a walk in the woods, I emerge feeling like a brand new person. When I scroll through my phone’s photo album, I have hundreds of photos from my walks in the forest. There is something so soothing about them, that even when I’m not there, just looking at a photo makes me feel relaxed.

There is a Japanese practice called Shinrin-Yoku. In Japanese the word “shinrin” means forest and “yoku” means bath. In the book “Forest Bathing” by Dr. Qing Li, Shinrin-Yoku is described as “bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses.” Even the smallest amount of time spent in nature can have positive impacts on your health.

In order to help get myself back into a routine I’ve been turning to these books to find inspiration and guidance. When I dug a little deeper into why walking is so important to us, I felt more connected to it. If you’ve ever lost interest in something you used to love, sometimes you need to remind yourself why you loved it so much in the first place. 

There is a quote from another book that I read titled “In Praise of Walking” by Shane O’Mara, and I think about it often. He writes “We are not disembodied brains travelling through space and time: we feel the ground beneath our feet, the rain on our face; perhaps peering into the unknown, but in doing so we are extending our range of experiences of this complicated world. And all the while we are silently creating memories of where we have been, and making maps of the world we have experienced.” 

Moving forward, I plan to keep going on my daily walks. I endeavour to be more observant and intentional and use my walks as a tool to continue to better myself. Being able to walk is a privilege and one I’ll never take for granted again. If you are able to move your body, you should. The Covid pandemic has reiterated that life is precious and should be treated as such. When I thought about how my anxiety held me back from doing things that I love, it made me feel angry and upset. Reclaiming my daily walks has taught me to be kinder and more patient with myself.  Walks are after all the perfect metaphor for progress. It happens gradually, one step at a time.