On the messy road of life, it is often
challenging to determine what your next step will be, what direction you will
take and which way you will turn. Perhaps that is one reason why walking a
labyrinth as a meditation is so appealing: the journey is clearly marked,
unobstructed and in full view. Although it twists and winds its way to the
center, there are no tricks, wrong choices or dead ends. To reach your
destination, all you have to do is follow the path.

Labyrinths can be found in spas and retreat centers, churches,
medical centers, schools, parks, hospitals, prisons, memorial gardens and
people’s backyards. Could this centuries-old meditation help you explore the
mind-body connection? Below, Mary Monroe, a freelance writer in Los Angeles,
provides insights on the labyrinth.

What Is a Labyrinth?

The labyrinth commonly consists of a
circular path that moves clockwise from the entrance to the center, traveling
through all four quadrants. The same path is used to walk in and out of the
labyrinth. The geometric structure for most labyrinths is designed to recreate
archetypal patterns associated with numerous cultural and spiritual symbols:
the four quadrants representing the four gospels or the four elements, seven
circuits representing the seven chakras, eleven circuits plus the center
representing the 12 months of the calendar, and so on. The most famous
labyrinth pattern is the eleven-circuit medieval labyrinth found in Chartres
Cathedral in France. Labyrinths can be constructed elaborately and permanently
or made quite simply, as with a portable canvas or with a dirt path marked by
rocks or masking tape.

Why Walk the Labyrinth?

Labyrinths are currently being used
worldwide in a variety of ways: to seek spiritual guidance, to quiet the mind,
to cope with problems or loss, to reduce stress or develop more balance, to
ease transition, to increase creativity or simply to be self-reflective.

Phyllis Pilgrim, director of mind-body-spirit and specialty week
programs at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, notes that the labyrinth
experience is ideal for many types of people, regardless of their spiritual
background or experience with mind-body practices. “[If you are] more
comfortable being active than still, the labyrinth is a nice opportunity to
meditate, or [to] make the transition to seated meditation.”

Experiencing the Labyrinth

The process of walking the labyrinth
involves three phases: walking toward the center, the stage of releasing or
letting go of thoughts or cares; reaching the center, the stage of receiving
new insight or spiritual grace; and walking back out, the stage of union or of
returning to the world with new awareness. The labyrinth can be walked
individually or as a group (single-file), and is often done slowly, in silence
or to soft music.

Pilgrim advises labyrinth walkers to clear their minds for the
experience, have no expectations and just be open to their thoughts and
feelings as they walk. “You make of it what you want,” she says. “People often
describe the experience as very pleasant, calming and centering. There are many
different approaches you can take. For example, you can think of something
specific, like peace, at every step. Or you can write down or think of a
question or problem and see what answers come as you walk. There does seem to
be something powerful about walking back and forth in the concentric circles of
the labyrinth.”

SIDEBAR: Labyrinth Resources

Want to find out
what the experience of a labyrinth is like? Try the online “finger meditation”
labyrinth exercise at www.gracecathedral.org. Of course, it’s not the same as
actually walking a labyrinth. To find out if there is a labyrinth located in
your area, see the labyrinth locater service at www.labyrinthsociety.org.

For another
worldwide labyrinth locator and for books by the renowned labyrinth expert Rev.
Dr. Lauren Artress, see www.veriditas.net.

This handout is a service of IDEA, the leading international membership association in the health and fitness industry, www.ideafit.com

©2008 by IDEA Fitness Journal. Reprint permission is granted to IDEA members by the copyright owner, IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. , (800) 999-4332