Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England

Do you remember when everyone thought they had to go for a walk for an hour and you would see these weird groups of people- like families with teenagers- reluctantly out for a ramble? Weird, of course, mainly because they didn’t have a dog with them. In this column I am going to talk about the positive effects of walking but if you don’t have a dog you are going to look weird. My only advice is this: get a dog. Or at least an OS map so you look purposeful. As a last resort, as I keep telling DALC2, accept that looking weird is good, we need more weird people.

Have I convinced you to walk more yet? Let me try harder.

Up until recently, I have walked the dog because the dog should have a walk. It is on the to-do list every day. Guilt (my favourite feeling) rises as the day gets busier and I know I’m going to have to shoehorn it in. I would end up doing it hurriedly, thinking about how quickly I could get home. But even then I would return in a completely different mindset to the one I left the house in. I don’t know if it is the rhythmic nature of the steps that are soothing, or the deeper breathing, or the peace, but if I leave thinking about a client who hasn’t paid my bill, I will return thinking that I need to consult Rory Gilmore’s reading list to see what my next pick is going to be. I asked my husband if he agrees that you are never thinking about the same thing on the way out with the dog and on the way home, and he said he doesn’t think- “apart from maybe to step to one side if I see a stinging nettle”. This blog is not for him, it is for the rest of us who have at least 25 conversations in their head in any five minute period. Pre-pandemic I wrote a review of the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport which I still highly recommend. He quotes Friedrich Nietzche saying, in 1889, “Only thoughts reached by walking have value”. And that was definitely before we started carrying all the information in the world around in our back pockets.

There are, obviously, many physical benefits of walking, and I’m not just talking about burning calories. I am trying to say this without embarrassment (it hasn’t bothered me before) but for me, with my much-aforementioned pelvic floor shot to pieces, I can’t afford to become constipated. I suppose it is obvious really, but compared with sitting all day at a desk, wearing a tight dress and high heels, walking really seems to get my bowels moving. It doesn’t screw up your knees like jogging, and doesn’t cost anything.

Hopefully it goes without saying that a break from screens, a break from phone calls and emails, a break from screaming children is so important. These days we need to seek out the tranquillity, but it is there.

So, as intimated above, I am now prioritising walking. I am doing it for me rather than the dog, but it is the same thing really. My days off don’t get much happier than when I’m watching her frolic in a bluebell wood. Win-win. I’ve even bought a book with guided walks in the local area, and I don’t mind driving a few miles to get to the start point. I highly recommend this, rather than doing the same route over and over. This is for a couple of different reasons:

    1. We talk a lot about mindfulness, and being in the moment. I challenge you to read- and follow- an instruction like “walk through the narrow field diagonally to the right then stay to the left by the pollarded trees then take the stile on the right before the farm” whilst also thinking about work or anything else. It is certainly a challenge for me, as I seem to be suffering with brain fog lately. In fact the only time I went wrong on my walk today was when I was supposed to be looking for a Victorian kissing gate half way along a path but I was thinking about whether a particular letter I sent last week was too…er…punchy. No, it wasn’t too punchy and yes, missing the kissing gate did add an extra two miles to my walk and require me to get my phone out and google my location. (And don’t get me started on kissing gates. Apparently, one of many things the Enormous Puppy is scared of. This morning I’ve had to use all my weight to push her through about six of the things against her will. Idiot.)
    2. I read a really good article about brain fog in lockdown. It made the really interesting point that, as our worlds became smaller, our senses were less stimulated. When we take our babies to Baby Sensory, we are told a lot about the connections they are making in their brains. The opposite happened to most of us in lockdown. This morning I got slightly sunburnt on my shoulders and saw horses, a swan, kayakers and I also sort of rescued a cow. I thought about Elizabeth Bennet arriving at Netherfield Hall as the bottom six inches of my summer dress got wet in the dew. Now, I’m stroking my silly dog and tasting a rather nice scone and cup of tea before we head back to the car. I’m telling you, this is all good for the brain. Except the white carbs, I know. More on that another time.

In the words of The Chicks (formally Dixie) I need Wide Open Spaces. I also need solitude. I know this isn’t always easy to obtain but it is so important. So if, like me, you haven’t been home alone since at least March 2020, you need to leave the house, mate. Open the front door and start walking. I promise you will feel better when you get back.