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Reconnecting with Your Body by Walking

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the book Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abbs, and I wrote about some of the challenges women face if they do long-distance walks. The second half of the book talks about one more challenge – and how walking can help overcome it.

The feeling of being betrayed by your body.

I think this is something many women can relate to, especially those who struggle with eating habits. It can certainly feel like a betrayal when you find yourself reaching for foods out of something other than hunger, as if you don’t have any control over your body. Or if your body doesn’t conform to certain ideals, or other people make negative comments about how you look or act physically, it can alienate you from your body.

And if, like with me, those problems cropped up during adolescence, when you’re already feeling off-kilter and self-conscious, those feelings of betrayal and alienation can be very hard to shake.

In those cases, doing anything physical may not seem very appealing. But if you can just start, walking may help you reconnect with and reclaim your body.

Being picked last

In Windswept, Abbs talked about her own experience of walking and reconnecting with her body, but she also talked about Simone de Beauvoir.

For those not familiar with Beauvoir, she’s most well-known for her writing, especially the book The Second Sex, and for her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. The fact that she was a serious long-distance walker in her youth is largely forgotten.

But Abbs learned that Beauvoir did not have a good relationship with her body early on. “[Beauvoir] was always the last chosen for any team game or sporting contest at school, and considered herself without grace or athletic ability.” (p. 210)

I don’t know about you, but I could relate to that all too well. I dreaded every PE class I ever had, but especially the ones that involved teams. I knew no one wanted me on their team, and I knew I’d let any team down once picked. And by the time I hit puberty, I’d stopped taking ballet classes, so any grace I had acquired from that quickly fell by the wayside.

How walking helps

But then, a man Beauvoir had a crush on told her that he liked how fast she walked, and it changed her image of herself. She began to think of herself as a walker, and then a hiker. She deliberately pushed herself, “driving [her] body to the very limit of its endurance.” (p. 212)

And it seems that pushing yourself like this, getting a little cold or hot or physically tired, is good for you. “According to the biologist David Sinclair, our bodies respond positively to tiny bursts of adversity, switching on genes that defend us from disease and illness.” (p. 186)

It was certainly positive for Beauvoir. She became, by necessity, supremely confident in and proud of her body. She could walk 30-35 km a day (approximately 19-22 miles) and do it again the next. And she sometimes climbed on her own, going up 1,700 meters (a little over a mile) or more (p. 217) – and for comparison, Maine’s Katahdin, the highest mountain in the state, is just shy of a mile high. It’s not an insignificant height.

Beauvoir’s physical strength was something she greatly valued, and with good reason. As Abbs explains it: “How we experience our bodies is crucial to our sense of freedom and to our feelings of empowerment. To understand our bodies’ capabilities… is to understand who we are and our place in the world.” (p. 217-218)

I’ve experienced this renewed confidence, too. Although I can’t boast of doing anything like Beauvoir did, I’ve found that walking helps me feel connected to my body again. Even if I can’t do everything that others do, it makes me realize I’m more capable than I realize, and that gives me the confidence to try a little more – and then a little more.

Spring is a great time to walk

If you haven’t been walking much but would like to, or if you’d like to start doing more, spring is a great time to get out. It’s not too hot or too cold (most of the time), and while there are occasional bouts of rain, if you wait a little while, it usually clears up.

And walking does so much for you. It’s good exercise, it can boost your mood and reduce stress – and it can also help you feel better about your body. Reconnecting with your physical self in this way will make you feel more confident and comfortable in your skin. And that gives you a sense of freedom almost nothing else will.


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