Walking In Circles Can Be Good Medicine

By Rick Cousins, Contributor
Copyright © 2007 The Galveston County Daily News,
Published August 18, 2007 (Photographer unknown)

Sometimes life may feel circular. Whether that cycle is conceived of as a hamster’s wheel, an athlete’s track, a pointless maze or a mysterious labyrinth may be, at least in part, up to you. Dr. Kay Sandor, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Texas Medical Branch, has noted the impact of stress on modern humanity and studied and published on the medical benefits of labyrinth walking using the Rotary Labyrinth at Galveston’s William Temple Episcopal Center, 427 Market St., as her model.

“ This kind of thing — labyrinth walking — has not been well studied,” Sandor said. “I’m in the literature as bringing the scientific method to its study. There’s science here, as well as mystery and awe. ”A labyrinth differs from a maze in that there’s only one path from the beginning to its center, eliminating any need for a compass or global positioning system. While you can’t get lost in a labyrinth, you might lose some of your cares and stress hormones while navigating one in the right frame of mind.

Sandor interviewed labyrinth participants and also used a control group who walked the field house track at the medical branch. She found significantly lower verbal aggression scores and less anxiety in the former group. “I give myself permission to let go of time when I walk the labyrinth — to slowly let go of everything that may be causing me to hurry,” said the Rev. Helen Applegate, executive director of the Temple Center. “In the walking, I notice that my breathing changes and my mind is calmed. I find a different perspective.” She said that she experienced feelings of connectedness, peacefulness and a relief of stress and pressure when she slowly paced the pathway to the center of the stone design.

“After walking, I suddenly again notice the birds, butterflies and gorgeous garden,” she said. “And I wonder why I don’t do this every day.” It all began with the Rev. Bob Wells, the longtime former director of the Temple Center, and an unprecedented feeling. “I had a strange feeling — an overwhelming impression, when I walked my first labyrinth in Kerrville,” Wells recalled. “It was like heaviness. I felt that I was to build one in Galveston.”

The final design was for a 40-foot arrangement employing two colors of paver stone. Although unique to the island, the pattern hails to a 13th-century version constructed in the Chartres Cathedral in France. Wells chose Marty Kermeen to design and build Galveston’s edition of this timeless, meditation pastime.

An $80,000 donation from Galveston’s Rotary Club provided funding for the stone labyrinth, which was completed in March 2001. “You don’t see people using cell phones there,” Wells said. “People go there to slow down and seek peace or direction in life. There’s something about walking the labyrinth that begins to settle people.”

Labyrinth designs have been identified in many ancient cultures. Some were associated with religious practice, others with romance. “For me, I do find a connection to the spirit and nature,” Sandor said. “I love living on this island and walking that labyrinth — this is good medicine and I recommend it.”

On the Web: www.williamtempleepiscopalcenter.org/labyrinth.htm
Copyright © 2007 The Galveston County Daily News