People often describe the Camino as a walk for the soul. Walking along the Meseta across Northern Spain one can’t help but tune in to the slower pace of life. Using this long-distance trail as a time to reflect is becoming more and more popular. In a world buzzing with distractions a quiet walk in natural surroundings allows us to pause, take deep breaths and enjoy the repetitive task of putting one foot in front of the other. The joy of walking is the ability to bask in the task of the moment. Whether you walk the coastal paths of the Camino Portugues or the forest tracks of the Camino Frances, each trail offers the chance to discover the power of nature to enhance your attention span.
“Walking allows us to deeply immerse ourselves in nature, our new surroundings and appreciate each moment. Our mind and body focus on the activity, taking step after step and enjoying every single one of them. The pleasure of meeting other pilgrims along the way makes the Camino journey even more special,” explains Galician native Maria Golpe. Maria has walked and cycled many different Camino trails.
Research has proven that a connection with nature provides strong social and emotional benefits. A recent study in the Journal of Religion, Spirituality and Aging shows that nature helps to reduce levels of anxiety and enhance higher positive well-being. Walking your chosen path, aware of the smells, sights and sounds can be an exhilarating experience with restorative benefits. Enjoy being present in the moment, listening to the sounds of birds chirping, trees rustling and waves swashing.
How mindful walking helped me to achieve a work-life balance
In 2015 I had my first experience of a walking holiday. Now each year I choose a new Camino route that allows me time and space to live in the moment. This year I completed the Camino Portugues from Baiona to Santiago.
This stunning trail takes you along the Atlantic coastline and through historic towns. Before heading off on my journey I was a little apprehensive. Firstly, I had little experience walking over long-distance terrain. The most I had carried out was a Sunday stroll in the Irish hills which led me along tree lined paths for just over two hours. Time never allowed for much longer but now, here I was preparing to walk over 120 kms in 6 days. How would I find my way? What types of terrain would I cross? Is it dangerous? What if I can’t keep up with the others? These were just a few of the worrisome questions that crossed my mind. However as soon as we started out on the Camino paths with the vibrant yellow arrows guiding us, these questions quickly faded into the background. The joy of walking is truly being immersed in your immediate surroundings. No clouds of judgement exist, just clouds guiding you to your next destination. Such simple joys are often taken for granted.
As I mentioned I had little experience of activity holidays. Personally, I had an enjoyable but demanding job. The pressure came as part of the package. Phrases like reaching targets, achieving results, making contacts, building profile, sprinkled my days and haunted my evenings. Most people working with multi-national companies will be familiar with these action points. What extra steps can you take to achieve your results for the four quarters that will help you to come closer to a bonus at the end of each quarter? I needed time out. I needed to just be, to live in the moment, to drag myself far away from forecasts and plans. Walking the Camino de Santiago showed me a new path.
Pleasure comes from the doing and the seeing, the knowing and the not knowing, the ever-changing pace of your steps along the way. As with Mindful practices you don’t need to prove your purpose or have a goal. Paying attention to those daily activities that are so often taken for granted suddenly seemed so right and easy to enjoy. Sipping a Café con leche with some delicious churros in the morning we would spend an hour or more sitting, eating, sipping. Life is made in these simple acts of pleasure. Here are some of my mindful tips when walking the Camino de Santiago or any long distance trail:
Breathing on the trails
Stop, allow yourself to take the time you need to breathe in slowly and feel your lungs expand as you take in the new sights around you. When walking it is easy to ignore your breathing and concentrate on your footwork but switching your concentration will help you to focus more on the activity.
Paying attention to your body when walking
Another tip is to feel the weight of your legs as you walk along the stunning trails. On the Camino routes you will walk over several types of terrain; cobbled streets, forests paths, along sidewalks and coastal tracks. This is the perfect opportunity to feel the true texture of the landscape underneath you.
Being aware of negative thoughts
We all hear those negative whispers that creep into our daily routines. As you practice mindfulness on your Camino you will start to become familiar with the patterns that can accentuate those thoughts. Hence, you have the chance to take this negativity and dissipate the reoccurring thoughts that create a negative atmosphere around you.
Having a daily intention
This tip is easy when walking any of the Camino routes. Your focus is solely getting from one town to the next. I can’t describe how wonderful it is to rise early in Northern Spain with only one goal: walk to your next destination. Now, we are not saying that this is an easy task. In fact, for many, including myself on some days, this walk tested my legs, my patience and my stamina. However, your arrival at the next town is the ultimate reward. Treat yourself to a glass of the famous local Albariño wine and some tapas.
Connecting with nature
There is no better place to feel in tune with nature then when you are out for a walk. The Camino de Santiago is a spiritual journey but also one where you have time to appreciate your natural surroundings. Walking through lush green forests and alongside the Atlantic coastline you will find yourself falling in love with the ground beneath you.
Showing appreciation and humility
Being mindful involves taking time to appreciate your surroundings and expressing thanks for the simple pleasures in life. “Buen Camino” is a common greeting when one is walking the Camino. It is translated to “Good luck on your way”. You will hear pilgrims, restaurant owners, hoteliers and the public wish you well when you are walking passed them. Adopt the phrase, own it, use it and greet your fellow walkers.
Just recently, I completed my third Camino journey. My name is Lisa and I am a walking addict. It is the perfect way to live in the moment, soak up your surroundings and escape the screens that fill our daily routines. I hope that you enjoyed this short account of my journey of the ancient Camino trail and some tips to help you find some reflection time along the way.
For more information about the Camino routes featured in this article please contact one of our Travel Specialists.