Walking as a retreat for the busy mom

There is a well-known walkers’ route in my hometown. As the weather gets warmer, dozens and dozens of women flock to these sidewalks. They have sweatshirts tied around their waists, and they exaggerate the movement of each arm swinging into the air. Left arm—whoosh. Right arm—whoosh. As a kid, you spot all your teachers, your dental hygienists, and your friends’ moms walking as the sun slips away.

As a kid, I knew: walking equaled boring, slow exercise. I didn’t know the power it held.

Walking isn’t just an exercise for the body; it’s a retreat for the soul.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker.”

I became a walker in 2008. I wish I had some beautiful story about the epiphany of walking, but I don’t.

I was living in Berlin, Germany. It cost 2,60€ to ride the S-Bahn to my German lessons and back. My husband’s bike lock had just been cut (we had flimsy locks, which were adequate for the German village were we’d lived previously), and I was too afraid to leave my bike unattended at school. So I stubbornly announced, “I’m walking home tomorrow.”

I downloaded an audiobook on my iPod, and I started walking home after class. I’d pick up some groceries on the way home to justify the extended journey. Even the quietest streets of a city are loud. Cars are racing down the cobblestone. Bikers are ringing their little bells. Kids are laughing and shouting. My story was impossible to hear, so I yanked off my earbuds. I started listening to everything else.

Suddenly I found myself stepping through a whole new story. My senses came alive. I started seeing and hearing the story of German people and their culture. They were using the words I’d just learned. They were going in and out of churches and shops that I had never seen when I biked by dozens of times. I could smell fresh basil and croissants. My mind slipped into this euphoria of general happiness free of any frets. And that’s when I began walking to school and back every day. I even had rain pants!

Photo by Katie Clemons

Walking can transfix you.

You can feel comfort like you’ve never known. Step-by-step, your mind can let go of expectations and the millions of ideas running through it. I credit these long daily walks to the growth of my journal and scrapbook shop that I now run in the US (where I take long walks on gravel roads and dirt trails instead).

No one even knows that you are walking down the street in this state of bliss. I feel like walking long distances is a great secret that few people experience as we rush to multitask and cross off items on our lists. Try walking without doing anything else. No cell phone. No iPod. No chatting partner. Just you. In town. On a winding path. Let go of expectations and see where it takes you.

Where will that be?

Katie Clemons

Katie Clemons is a storycatcher and award-winning journal crafter. She helps folks celebrate their life stories and nurture deeper bonds with her beloved mother child journals and introspective diaries at Gadanke.com. She also blogs at Making This Home.

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  1. Love this post! Especially this line: “walking long distances is a great secret”. Thank you for sharing your secret!

  2. i love walking! just to recharge and get a mini alone time i will walk around our block when my husband is home and i can leave the kids. even those 10 minutes (if i just go around one time) are so much easier to think, pray, listen, and just be! sometimes i will do several laps by myself to go back to the house a much happier and more fun to be with mommy.

  3. Megan J says:

    This spoke to me. Thank you for this. I think I will go for a walk. Just me.

  4. Catherine says:

    This reminds of how, when I was about 8 or 9 I think, I would visit my grandparent’s farm and just walk everywhere. I remember one day, after a particularly long walk down a sandy road, thinking with euphoria “I could just walk forever!”. Thanks for reminding me. I think I might just go for a solo walk tomorrow.

  5. We live abroad in a large city and walk or take the bus everywhere. For the most part we love that we are able to walk to so many places.

  6. Love love love walking!

    It doesn’t feel like “real” exercise, but it’s how I lost all the baby weight.

    I sneak out of the house with the dog for twenty minutes, and leave our young girls with my husband. They miss me though, I’m yet to come home without both the children peering out the window waiting for me. But that’s lovely, too!

  7. i was contemplating taking a walk at lunch time today instead of going to the gym – we finally have some sunshine here in London after what seems like weeks of rain and cold – I’m definitely strapping on my trainers instead! thanks for the extra boost!

  8. Great post! We’ve met a lot of our neighbors this way also. Although we live too far away to walk to town, I try to park in one place and walk once I’m in town. I wish it was more pedestrian friendly though!

  9. So true, Katie! When I walk without the ipod, I HEAR and SMELL and SENSE so much more. Sure, the music makes me walk faster, but when I need to decompress the best way is to just listen to the birds, the wind in the trees and the rustling of the grass (and yes, the sound of the tractors in the field.) It is a chance to think without all the internal noise in my head.I find I have to do it first thing, though, or else the walk falls by the wayside. Have a great day!

  10. I agree; there is something special about walking just for walking’s sake. My husband and I used to go for walks around sunset and just listen to our neighborhood and tell stories from our day. It was a great bonding time, but better than sitting on the couch, because we were out among all the wonderful things you mentioned. We’ll have to start that up again!

  11. As someone who hates exercise this post is very encouraging and inspiring to me. While I hate exercise, I love experiences that refresh my soul. I love peeks into all the lives around me. Thanks for writing this!

  12. I adore walking! As a single mother to three, I have very little “alone” time. Almost each day I try to walk/slow jog three miles. But on a weekend day, I often indulge in a long walk – 5-8 miles – with no children, no lists, no schedule. It is glorious!

  13. I love walking too – although I’m generally pushing a stroller with a chatterbox in it. 🙂

  14. Queen of Chaos says:

    Oh, how this makes me miss a certain home of our past! We had one car and because I didn’t want to wake up early on the days I didn’t need the car to take my husband to work, I walked or rode my bike everywhere in that town. The grocery store was next door essentially, my university was only two miles away, and there were sidewalks and trails leading all over town. It’s always been our dream that if we don’t move to the country, then we will move to a town like that again. We agree it was definately our best year to date, and so we strive to take lessons from that year and use that to better our present situation. Unfortunately, walking through town was a huge part of that, and it’s not feasible where we are now.

  15. I love this! I have been pondering taking solo walks for no other reason but to retreat and reflect. But then I get scared. I want to invite a friend (which I never do). I say I will listen to an audio book (which I never do). And then I just don’t walk at all. This has inspired me. Thank you for crafting your story and walking observations so beautifully.

  16. Terrific post. Your description of your discovery in Germany reminded me of when we took our children to our former home of NYC, we walked from 79th street all the way down to the Brooklyn Bridge, across it and into Brooklyn. It was a good several hour walk and a wonderful way for the kids to see the city!
    I love a quiet walk – but you can also make it into a fun, exciting, challenging exercise that even your kids will love with Funny Walks. Add hops, skips and weird walks and you work out more muscles and make it interesting for kids who might think it’s boring. I write all about it here:

  17. Oh, I love this. I have no idea how to incorporate more walking into my current life, with all the relatively-long-distance commuting we have to do. But I love this. I aspire to it.

  18. I usually take walks on my lunch break. I was thinking of skipping today, but after reading this, I can’t miss my walk. I owe it to myself.

  19. I LOVE walking!
    I grew up in the country – and would walk the deep ditches to pick armfuls of sweet peas (my fav flower to this day!), listen to the birds, and avoid the wild turkeys. The I went to college – moved to town and didn’t have a car. Loved walking – running into friends, finding new shops and just enjoying the weather. I had (and still have) a huge umbrella to cover both myself and my ever-present backpack.

    These days I walk on campus at my job (I’m a University Prof and a PhD Student) and listen to conversations or carry on a conversation myself, notice the crazy squirrels (I saw one eating a huge french fry the other day), or laugh at the antics of little children or pets that people have brought to campus for a short time. I walk at home with my Hubby and kiddos to the park – looking for baby geese this time of year, or looking at the turtles piled so high on the logs they are stacked 3-deep (Anyone see Yertle anywhere?). Or to the grocery/post office/ice cream shop/library which are all located about 2 miles on sidewalk away from our home.

    One of our goals is to buy our next house in a location where either Hubby or me or both of us can walk to work each day! Would love that!

    Thanks for the lovely post!

  20. I have always walked without doing anything else. Walking is my favorite form of activity and I will do it gladly, willingly, and for long periods of time. If I decide I should try running instead, I dread the thought of it, dread the getting ready for it, and dread the doing of it. I get so bored when I run! But never when I walk. I guess the pace of walking is just right for me. Thank you for a beautiful “ode to walking”, Katie.

    • “ode to walking” – I never thought of it that way, but I think you nailed it so perfectly, Lisa.

  21. Oh, and when our son was a baby he was so fussy in the evenings. Luckily, it was spring/summer so either my husband or I would wear him in a front pack and all three of us would go walking around our little town and look at the houses, greet people, identify trees, or just talk and walk. We would literally walk for hours every evening! I think it might just have saved our marriage, and our sanity, in those early baby months. It’s such a great memory now, too.

  22. carissa says:

    this is a great post, katie. i have enjoyed reading your blog over the years though i’ve lost track recently where you all are at with the hanger rehab. keep up the good work and be encouraged!

  23. I believe walking is a meditation. It reconnects me with myself and nature.

  24. Such a great reminder! Thanks! I grew up in France and people walk all the time there. We sometimes go on family walks right after dinner which I love. I’ll have to get into going alone… that would be refreshing.

  25. How right you are! I love how much more detail I can observe when I am walking. I love the perspective of walking being a moving retreat. It is time well spent, as you point out. And even when I have the kids with me, being outdoors is still relaxing.

  26. JacquelineB says:

    Thank you for the encouragement to walk. You’re right, of course!
    What I really want to talk about, though, is BERLIN. My mom lives in Prenzlauer Berg, and my Oma lived a block from Charlottenburg until her death 2 years ago. I have visit my Oma and Oma 10 times from childhood into my 20’s. My mom moved back my senior year (we’re in California). Our last visit was 11 years ago to introduce our then 1 year old son to Oma and my mom. I miss my mom especially, but I also feel homesick for Berlin. I love that city.

    • Homesick for Berlin and family over there? Oh gosh. I hear ya, Jacqueline. Crossing my fingers we can both get back there again for some beautiful, long walks and everything that comes with the city.

  27. It is important for moms to retreat from stress and busy schedules and I also think that walking is a very great way to do that. How often do you usually walk with your child? Thank you so much for sharing your pieces of advice on this matter.

    • Sandra, I think it all depends on what fulfills you and works with your schedule. In Berlin, I used to see moms (and many grandmas) pushing strollers for hours and hours. My walks tend to be about 40 minutes and a couple of miles.

  28. I’ve recently been challenged to ponder more–take time to have quiet time in my life. Walking is the time for me to do that. I now walk my daughters to their classes–a few miles away. It gives us time together and the walk back home alone gives me time to think! I love it.

  29. I live on a wonderfully secluded dirt road and I have experienced the tranquility of a peaceful walk with just my thoughts and prayers. I have had times when my walks were very consistent every week. They haven’t been for quite a while and I miss them.

    I do like to wear my ipod and listen to my praise music when I walk too!

  30. Years ago my husband and I used to bike, but often there was traffic and we’d end up riding single file. I loved riding, but with the precious little time we had together, we missed being able to talk. About the same time, my friend was going through a tough spot. So we would walk and talk, regardless of the weather. I realized how much I enjoyed walking and slowly talked my husband into walking with me. Now he prefers it for our time together. And he even remarks about how much more can be seen and experienced sans bikes. We’ve gotten bolder and have even ventured off the roads into the woods, discovering a whole new world. We feel renewed and our souls are more at peace.

  31. This is amazing! I walk a lot but I’ve taken it for granted. You know how busy being a mom is. If I have the ability to travel at the speed of light from point A to point B, I would rather do that just to get more things done. But you are right. It’s not just a physical exercise. It’s an emotional and mental exercise as well. Thanks!

  32. I love walking…
    I met a wonderful lady the other day. She had had 12 children, all grown up now. I asked her if she had any advice. She said one word… Walking.

  33. I walk a lot but I’ve taken it for granted. You know how busy being a mom is. If Ihave the ability to travel at the speed of light from point A to point B, I would rather do that just to get more things done. Thanks for sharing..

  34. I LOVE walking! I started walking in 2001 as an exchange student in France. I had gained weight that year and was determined to get it off. So speed walking became my tool and my love. I already loved walking around my city in France, but speed walking with exaggerated arm movements was was whipped me into shape. I’ve never quit walking, and I don’t plan on it as long as my legs work. I’ve tried so many different types of exercise but my first love always trumps those! Not only for the exercise but for the soul. Great post!

  35. I had gained weight that year and was determined to get it off. So speed walking became my tool and my love. Thanks for sharing.

  36. I also LOVE to walk. I am a self described fitness junky and work out everyday, but I still prefer a nice long walk alone over running or boot camp or cycling. There is something incredibly calming about the walk. Time slows down. I give myself permission to think or NOT think, what ever floats my boat that day. And I get some cardio in to boot.

  37. We recently watched “The Way” with Martin Sheen about a walking journey he takes in Spain/The Pyrenees. The scenery was beautiful and the story was interesting – I recommend it to all these walkers!

    I find that walking always helps me when I get overwhelmed at home with my young boys – we grab the stroller and get out in the fresh air. Walking is our reset button!

  38. oh yes! walking makes things so much better. after naptime if the kids are still in a grumpy-pants mood. we hop in the stroller and check out the neighborhood. the morning walks are the best, especially since we have found a few great walking trails to spice things up. the little boys talk to each other and we all get to breath in the fresh air. LOVELY!

  39. I love walking! Sometime we walk to the grocery store 1.5 miles for a few things. Sometimes I get out by myself at sunrise, and sometimes the kids need to get out of the house, and a walk in the stroller always “fixes” things.

  40. Walking is so refreshing. Sometimes it’s the simple things. We have a family membership at the gym but now that it is beautiful outside it almost feels criminal to not take advantage of it. Thanks for the reminder ; )

  41. Love it…working on it…but walking is always more fun in Europe 🙂

  42. I love walking here now that the weather is so nice.
    I walk first thing in the mornings and vary my path. I have learned and seen so much just being by myself.
    My favorite walk is the mile and a half to the national forest behind our homestead. I walk and walk and then sit by the creek just overwhelmed by the sound of the creek pounding on the rocks as it travels down the mountain. I sit just me and the birds.

  43. Oooh, I have to admit that while I love walking, I haven’t tried walking just for the heck of it with no direction or destination in mind. Knowing my sense of direction though, it’s best I stick to general directions or at least have my husband accompany me lol. Normally I walk around our park or a trail. Nothing beats walking in nature 🙂

  44. I totally agree with you! When I was in college I used to take the bus. One day I missed it and I had to wait half an hour before the next bus came. I realized that I could get to my destination in a little bit more than 30 minuntes if I walked (taking a shortcut). So the next time missed my bus I decided to walk and I loved it! After that I kept walking because it saved the stress of “catching the bus” plus it felt so good!

  45. Karen L says:

    first-time reader and commenter, I just popped in from the link on The Happiest Mom site.

    I’ve recently started doing an evening walk myself. I bring the baby in the stroller as an excuse to leave DH with the preschoolers. It is killing several birds with one stone for me.
    1. I get some fresh air.
    2. I get to clear my head.
    3. The preschoolers get quality time with dad rather than me because I’m clean out of patience by 7 pm.
    4. creative outlet. I have sometimes brought my camera out, but not as a cellphone/iPod-like distraction, rather actually to reinforce my connection to my surrounding.
    5. Sometimes I’ll run an errand on my way back.

  46. Jane Wilds says:

    I like this: ” Walking isn’t just an exercise for the body. It is a retreat for the soul”. It makes me really find value in my weekend walks which some people will find awkward, but trust me there is a lot I gain from them.

  47. I love this, thank you. I’ve been neglecting my walking recently and this has inspired me to get back out there!

  48. What a great reminder! Walking was one of my goals for the warmer weather and I haven’t done it much yet… Better get on that. 🙂

  49. Left arm—whoosh. Right arm—whoosh. As a kid, you spot all your teachers, your dental hygienists, and your friends’ moms walking as the sun slips away.

  50. They have sweatshirts tied around their waists, and they exaggerate the movement of each arm swinging into the air.

  51. Loved this post. A great reminder. I was an avid walker, but stopped two years ago due to life changes. Circumstances have changed again, allowing me the freedom to take long walks at my choosing. “walking in bliss” – when we put down the gadgets & tune in to life. Yes. This is for me. Now.


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