What Is a Labyrinth?
The structure’s namesake, the Labyrinth of Knossos, was an elaborate, maze-like trap designed by the Ancient Greek architect Daedalus for Minos, King of Crete, to hold the mythical beast the Minotaur captive. While the original labyrinth was created to confuse and imprison, the structure has evolved to hold a more symbolic and spiritual importance. During the Middle Ages, for example, labyrinths often inspired church designs and were symbolic of spiritual journeys or pilgrimages in the Christian religion. Today you can walk labyrinths in all kinds of places – including addiction treatment centers – since they are secluded spaces for introspection, meditation, and spirituality.
You may be thinking that labyrinths seem a lot like mazes. The two, however, are very different! A labyrinth has only one unwavering path to its center and doesn’t pose any kind of navigational challenges. Mazes, on the other hand, are formed from many branched paths that can lead to dead ends or other obstacles and have many different routes to their centers. While a maze might be a fun challenge, labyrinth walking is a relaxing, stress-free experience.
How Do You Walk Through a Labyrinth?
While you may be relieved that labyrinths don’t require maps, you should still pause and plan before walking! There are a couple of important steps to consider before setting foot in a labyrinth:
- Setting the intention – what will be the focus of your walk through the labyrinth? Do you want to reflect on your interpersonal relationships? Or do you simply want to spend some time with yourself? Think of a question, prayer, or mantra, to contemplate while you walk.
- Stepping in – clear your mind, keeping only the intention of the walk at the forefront of your thoughts. Step into the labyrinth and begin your slow and steady walk towards the center, slowing your breathing to be in time with the rising and falling of your foot as you take each step.
- Reaching the center – you’re halfway done! Now that you’ve reached the center, pause for a moment, and reflect on your journey there, as well as the intention you chose before setting out. Say that mantra or prayer again, or ask the same question you began with.
- Leaving the labyrinth – retrace your steps and continue to consider the intention you set as you began your journey into the labyrinth. As you finish your journey and step out of the structure, reflect on your experience. Take some time to gather your thoughts, journal, or meditate.
How Does Labyrinth Walking Benefit Your Mental Health?
Because labyrinths are easy to follow and relaxing by design, they possess many noteworthy mental health benefits:
- Stress reduction – walking a labyrinth can reduce your stress levels. The repetitive and meditative nature of the walk can have a calming effect on the body and the mind and can distract you from the pressures of day-to-day life by reducing feelings of agitation by 62 percent, stress by 80 percent, and anxiety by 73 percent.
- Mindfulness and meditation – labyrinth walking transports you into a focused and mindful state as you keep track of the path in front of and behind you. As you follow the trail, you can become more attuned to your surroundings and own thoughts, promoting a sense of being present in the moment. Walking in labyrinths can increase centeredness by 81 percent, sensations of peace by 87 percent, and relaxation by 88 percent.
- Self-reflection – the quiet and contemplative atmosphere of the labyrinth provides a space for introspection and self-reflection. The process can help you gain meaningful insights into your thoughts, emotions, and life experiences, and can increase reflectiveness by 80 percent, and mental quietness by 85 percent.
- Clarity of mind – participating in a labyrinth walk can create mental space that allows for clearer thinking and sharper problem-solving skills. You can use a labyrinth walk to contemplate challenges you’re facing and seek solutions, because they can increase feelings of clarity by 62 percent.
- Spirituality – walking the labyrinth can be a great way to connect with your faith or inner spirituality, due to the symbolism of the structure. The journey to the center can represent a spiritual quest, while the way back out can symbolize letting go of emotional baggage.
Why Should You Try Walking a Labyrinth in Recovery?
Because labyrinth walks are relaxing and reflective experiences, they present many important benefits to individuals recovering from substance abuse. A Harvard University study found that recovering addicts greatly benefitted from labyrinth walking in treatment, because it is a meditative practice that incorporates healthy movement and introspection, and removes focus away from the body, which may be undergoing withdrawal. Feelings of deep physical relaxation, mental stimulation and insightful reflection, and connection with spirituality explain why the study found labyrinths to be “helpful for the recovery journey.” Labyrinth walks can also help reduce the risk of relapse, as they reduce the number of dysfunctional, or drug use-related, thoughts in those in recovery. If you’re looking to experience the healing power of the labyrinth, this website can locate one near you!