Thursday, April 11, 2013

Walking: Not such a pedestrian activity

An interesting view on Walking, (which I love to do) written by  John Chiramal

One thing you may have noted about our iconic religious figures of the past, like Mahavir, the Buddha, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Bodhidharma, Mohammed, Guru Nanak, Drukpa Kuenley, et al: you name them, they all did their fair share (and some) of walking.

So, the next time you trudge your way to school, work or shop, keep that in mind.  When you walk, one thing’s for sure, even with no one beside you, you’re still in the best company.

There were no cars in their days, of course; still, one gets the sense those luminaries would have sniffed at a lift, and plumped for good old shank’s pony as ever.  The fact is, save for a now and then mule or camel ride (and tiger’s back, in Guru Rinpoche’s case), they went about their (and/or God’s) biz on their own two feet.

For there is no better way to get your message across to the masses – ask any politico – than to rub shoulders with those you wish to reach.  At present, the politician may be the sole (and last) public figure to appreciate the value of pressing the flesh.

Something, in the spiritual context, some say, is not practical today.  Mores the pity, say I.  Though televangelists and globetrottereincarnates may beg to differ.

Still, in my mind, there is no doubt that, with the ascendancy of technology, religion has been made to play second fiddle in the ensemble of modern life.  It almost looks like most of the great souls, who walked this earth, showed a clean pair of heels, either by chance or choice, before the wheels rolled in.

Hikes that changed the course of history 

Two epochal tramps that spring to mind, I’m sure you’ll agree, are Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March and Chairman Mao Zedong’s Long March.

To recap, at the risk of boring you, let me share a brief history lesson.

On March 12, 1930, Gandhi and 78 satyagrahis (exponents of non-violent resistance) set out on foot for the coastal village of Dandi, Gujarat, over 390km from Sabarmati ashram, their starting point.

He arrived at the seashore on April 5.  The next morning, after a prayer, Gandhi raised a lump of salty mud and declared, “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.”

He then went on to boil it in seawater, to produce, what was then, illegal salt.

Mao’s Long March, on the other hand, was a military retreat by the Red Army of the Communist Party of China, to shake off the pursuit of the Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party) army.

There was not one long march, but a series of them, as several red armies in the south escaped to the north and west.  The march from Jiangxi province, which began in October 1934 and covered some 12,500km over 370 days, was the most well known one.

The Long March sparked the rise to power of Mao Zedong.

 A well-known walker and not so renowned one

John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, is closely linked with the domestication of America.  In the early 1800s, he roamed the frontier, planting apple seeds and helping to make the wilderness a home for the spreading pioneers.  He planted over a hundred thousand square miles of apple orchards in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.

Johnny Appleseed was, to draw it mild, an eccentric.  A vegetarian, who walked barefoot, also out of character with his times, he was kind to animals and made friends with the Indians.

He preached a Christianity that had a healthy dose of nature-worship, and embodied two extremes: the rough-and-ready free spirit and the gentle altruist.

This second walker of my choice is Nain Singh Rawat, one of the first pundits to explore the Himalayas for the British.  Hailing from the Johaar Valley of Kumaon, he mapped the trade route through Nepal to Tibet, found out for the first time the site and height of Lhasa, and mapped a large section of the Tsangpo, a major Tibetan river.

Of his prodigious feats of survey, it was remarked “his explorations have added a larger amount of important knowledge to the map of Asia than any other living man”.

He was trained by endless practice to take a pace (in the footsteps of the Buddha, as if it were), which, be it uphill, downhill or on a plain, stayed the same – thirty-three inches.

Next, he learned how to keep an exact count of steps taken in a day, or between any two landmarks.  This was done with the aid of a Buddhist rosary, which had one hundred (as opposed to the 108 that is the norm) beads.  Each complete round of his ‘secular’ rosary, thus, tallied ten thousand paces or five miles.

The intrinsic value of a walk

Not to belabour the obvious, let me mention in passing how walking can act like a tonic to the system.

Walking is a gentle, low-impact workout that can ease you into a higher state of fitness and health.  It’s a form of exercise almost anyone can do.  Safe and simple, it needs no practice.  And the health benefits are many.

To list some, walking can help you:

• Lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol)

• Raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol)

• Bring down your blood pressure

• Reduce your risk of or manage type-2 diabetes

• Raise your spirits

• Stay strong and fit

All it takes to reap these fruits is a routine of brisk walking.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

As for the “no pain, no gain” brigade, it’s just talk, a mask for the masochistic bent.  Research shows that regular, quick walks can reduce the risk of heart attack by the same amount as more robust exercise, such as jogging.

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