Updated: Aug 15, 2019
The body is held together by a biotensegrity matrix of collagen and proteoglycans (molecules that are part protein and part sugar) called fascia. This matrix touches absolutely every part of your body from the smallest cell to the biggest bone, and because of the way the fibers are arranged, movement or impact in any part ripples through the whole. The fascial network is also piezoelectric, which means that a force applied to it causes the transfer of electrons through the web. Very literally, body movement is electric.
The brain is composed of over a billion neurons (nerve cells) that are capable of making and breaking connections with other neurons for as long as we are alive (a phenomenon called neuroplasticity). The nervous system is embedded within the fascial web, and it senses and responds to the forces of movement and impact that move through the fascia (called interoception). In each step we take, in every movement no matter how small and subtle, we stimulate the nervous system from the periphery all the way to the neocortex. In other words, how we move our bodies shapes our brains.
When we sit in a chair at a desk all day, the brain receives very little stimuli from the body. The brain body connection can begin to atrophy. When we walk on a concrete path the forces that travel up the body are uniform, predictable and over time the body becomes adapted to the lack of variety, to the predictable pattern of pavement and floor. In a lifestyle of sitting and walking on even surfaces we might find our thinking narrows, our ideas lack shine and alacrity, our relationships lose their appeal.
In terms of movement, walking on trails, especially through the forest, provides more and varied stimuli for the brain and body. Moving over tree roots, winding, zig-zagging, up and down, each step is a unique dance that mirrors the terrain. Our bodies, our minds, become an expression of the land when we walk upon her naked body. Walking in the forest on uneven ground keeps us alive to change, remembers us to the moment, and literally reshapes us. We gain a vitality and an ability to graciously adapt to change, that in turn improves our mood, our self esteem and the quality of our relationships. Our thinking shifts away from narrow minded dualism, and we find we are able to manage more complex and creative ideas, ones that accept and resonate with what is.
Next time you have the time to go for a walk, you might leave the predictability and comfort of pavement and step onto bare earth, find a winding dirt path, an empty lot or a trailhead. Revitalize body and mind. Take a walk in the woods.