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New Employee Wellness Tool From the Ancient Practice of Labyrinth Walking

Corporate wellness professionals looking for a unique initiative in stress management programs should consider the ancient practice of labyrinth walking. Over 3500 years old, the labyrinth is a symbol representing wholeness. When this symbol is transferred to the ground and walked with purpose, labyrinth walking provides an opportunity to slow down and turn attention inward, then return to the outside world feeling renewed and rejuvenated.

Because labyrinths provide many of the same benefits as meditation -- stress reduction, relaxation, inner stillness, emotional healing -- labyrinth walking is sometimes called a walking meditation. The slow twists and turns of labyrinths are thought to enhance right brain activity, allowing walkers to tap into their natural intuition and creativity. The activity's value in the workplace for building teams, raising morale, resolving conflicts, and solving problems also has become recognized. Team walks, for example, allow employees to work together in envisioning different ways to approach a challenge.

The traditional labyrinth has a curving path leading to a center point (called the goal). A labyrinth is not the same as a maze, which has dead ends and trick turns, but instead has only 1 path leading to the center and back out again; there are no dead ends. Of the 3 basic designs -- 7 circuit, 11 circuit, and 12 circuit -- the most common today is the 7 circuit.
Walkers move through the labyrinth at the pace that suits their mood or goal. The trip may be slow, skipping, energetic, celebratory, and even playful. On average a labyrinth walk takes 20-30 minutes, but it really depends on the individual.
After going along the path, the walker comes into the center goal. After spending time there in contemplation, the walker returns -- traveling an average of about 1/3 mile.
Walking the Path
There is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth, as long as everyone respects other walkers on the path. Trained facilitators can help the novice walker learn to use the labyrinth, but experienced walkers set their own pace.
Whether a personal journey or a team walk, labyrinth walking has 3 stages:
  • Walking in. Walkers use the labyrinth for a variety of reasons. Some focus on a challenge or question. Others get in touch with tensions and focus on breathing. Many simply empty their minds of all concerns and enter in peace, allowing themselves to be present in the body. Such receptive periods often create insights and memories; if distractions occur, the walker acknowledges them and goes back to breathing.

  • At the center goal. This is a time of enlightenment and being connected. Walkers contemplate what they learned about themselves and how problems or issues relate to them personally. They can stay there as long as they like.

  • Walking out. Leaving the labyrinth, walkers apply what they learned to real life. This is a time of regeneration and uncoiling. It's not unusual for walkers to feel the time walking out to be shorter than it actually is. Many want to spend time in quiet reflection.
Everyone's experience is different. For some it may be immediate or emotional. Others may find hours or days pass before the energy moves through them to a point of recognition.

University of North Dakota's Indoor Labyrinth
In 2006, the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks put a new carpet in their Wellness Center Quiet Room, with a labyrinth woven into the pattern. Kim Ruliffson (Coordinator of Work Well, the staff and faculty worksite wellness program) says, "On the day of our center's grand opening, a facilitator oriented people to the labyrinth and answered questions. She encouraged people to give it a try. Some did. Others were not comfortable doing the walk in front of others but came back to use it privately. Wellness Center staff provided a 1-page handout on how to use the labyrinth."
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