A good walk carries many benefits.

Henry David Thoreau said, “An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” Research supports his assertion. Mayo Clinic reports regular, brisk walking can do everything from improving mood to strengthening bones and muscles.

Another great thing about walking is you can start doing it anytime, anywhere, with little or no financial investment. Some may begin a regular regime tomorrow in honor of National Trails Day.

The annual event is coordinated by the American Hiking Society and aims to connect more people to trails in their communities. National Trail Day takes place the first Saturday in June and includes hundreds of local and regional organized events, which emphasize the accessibility of trails and trail use among people of all ages and abilities.

Across the United States, there are 200,000 miles of nature trails, according to the American Hiking Society. These spaces are maintained by individual advocates and stewards, trail clubs, private organizations and municipalities and other government agencies.

This system includes the Cedar Valley Trails system in Northeast Iowa, which offers 110 miles of paved paths as well as soft, snow and water trails. The trails also connect Black Hawk to Benton and Linn counties.

Walking is perhaps one of the world’s oldest spiritual practices. For centuries, it has been a central component of devotional life in all world religions. As such, walking and hiking are viewed by practitioners as replenishing, contemplative and centering activities. People step out to connect with nature, heal, think through problems and puzzles, clear their minds and more.

“Walking is one of the first arts which can be taught to children,” noted Samuel Lewis. “It is not usually looked upon as an art, but in teaching children how to draw and how to dance, some knowledge of walking as an art or even as a science is helpful.”

Lewis, an acclaimed American mystic who taught Sufism, Zen Buddhism and Christianity, focused on movement and breathing in spiritual practice. Because walking is one of the first things we learn, he believed we don’t necessarily take it as seriously as we must.

“We do not see that without some knowledge, not only uncontrolled fatigue but also emotional problems arise,” he explained.

As several sources note, many religions and philosophies place some importance on at least one ritual or practice that involves walking. This can include making pilgrimage to spiritual and/or sacred sites, walking the labyrinth and/or walking mantras and prayers.

The contemplative nature walk is not necessarily solitary. Experts note paired and group walks can forge and deepen relationships, help in conflict resolution and spur inspiration and creativity.

To check out National Trails Day events, go to NationalTrailsDay.org. For a brief guide to spiritual walking practice created by Lewis, email onfaith@karrisgolden.com or follow me on Twitter @KarrisGolden.

Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.

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