Before, in order to travel, one had to move – to walk, to ride, to swim, or to run. Nowadays, travelling involves much less physical effort; we can passively evolve through landscapes, sitting on a train, bus or plane.
‘Active transportation’ is a fashionable term nowadays. It stresses our active physical involvement in transportation: getting around, using our human energy, primarily walking or cycling.
When we have a car and drive often, all we see is other cars and advertisement signs. We simply get from point A to point B, as quickly as the traffic allows us. We surely gain time in the process, but while skipping the landscape, people and sensory experiences, we lose precious first-hand information from the field.
We learn about the weather from a smartphone screen, instead of going outside to feel the temperature or observe the sky.
Before, when we took a slow boat, we could spend the entire time on deck and feel the wind, the rain, or the sunshine on our skin. We had time to adapt to the climate of a new place, to prepare, to integrate information about our movement in a given space. Now we get on a plane with artificially maintained cabin pressure, and are surprised by the climate at our destination, with our senses shocked.
We tend to trust our own senses less, and eventually we “skip” them entirely. This is when it becomes difficult to explain what we experience in our body when feeling anxious, joyful, or scared. Our senses inform us on how our environment impacts us. Ultimately, they help us make sense of our emotional - and then cognitive - reaction to this environment. Skipping this first stage of ‘making sense of the world’ can cause serious confusion.
It is important to reconnect with our senses to help us gain awareness about what is going on outside our body, and to better read our genuine reactions to the environment.
If this process is smooth enough, we struggle less with integration in a new place. We adapt quicker and evolve throughout the process, gaining in resilience.
When we arrive in a new place, we can choose how to discover it. If we walk, we put ourselves on the same level with the environment; we take a risk to get wet in the rain, or pushed by a passing stranger. But at the same time, we also get a chance to meet someone, a child, a dog, a squirrel, or a tree, that touches us and makes us smile.
Talking Therapy Goes Walking
Psychotherapy is associated with lying on a couch or sitting in a comfortable armchair, while talking therapies generally focus on thinking and feeling. The client’s and the therapist’s body are excluded from the process. Taking therapy outdoors brings the body back into the process.
Walk and talk therapy is an old but well-forgotten concept. Freud was known for walking with some of his clients in the streets of Vienna. Walking alongside a client – is a very strong metaphor to what therapy ultimately is. We do walk side by side, as Irvin Yalom puts it - as ‘fellow travellers’.
Every therapy has a stage where feeling and thinking are necessary ingredients. But when we gain some clarity and feel ready to make changes in our lives, we naturally move into action.
Any kind of psychotherapy is a dynamic process, and the client’s scope is often ‘to move forward’, ‘to go ahead’, or ‘to progress’. By walking and talking, we engage differently with our energy, compared to talking and passively lying or sitting.
Walk and Talk for Fellow Expats
Most of my local clients are expatriates. They often come to me with feelings of anxiety, depression, or a general impression of being stuck. Being an expatriate myself, I have first-hand experience with being ‘suspended between the worlds’, typical for those who experience displacement.
Expatriation naturally brings us to question our early attachment to people or to places; the original bonds that we have formed during childhood and the new bonds we develop later in life. Walking in a particularly engaging space, such as Buen Retiro Park in Madrid, gives us an opportunity to explore these important links.
Many modern nomads live rather motionless urban lives, where exercise has become another task to fit in our calendar. ‘Walk & Talk’ could, along with talking therapy, be a welcome way to bring movement back into our weekly routine.
Anastasia Piatakhina Giré is an integrative psychotherapist practicing in Madrid, and also worldwide through Skype.
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