Since COVID-19 quarantine began, I have taken a long walk everyday. I walk from my apartment in Harlem along the Hudson River for a minimum 4.4 mile loop. I walk on cloudy days. I walk on rainy days. When I walk on sunny days, it’s as if the entire world in all its glory opens to me, and I feel oddly complete and that despite the infectious disease in our midst, all will somehow be well. Walking is a meditation. One foot, then the other foot. Repeating what for my abled body is a simple, accessible action over and over again in this methodic way can bring about mental stability. Without fail, as I savor this simple practice of putting one foot in front of the other when out of doors, I am surprisingly overcome with a grateful heart and a sense of peace.
After these walks, I have started to ritualize a short yoga practice to stretch my legs, hips, low back and spine, which brings my hard-working lower body instantly back into balance. You can find this practice on YouTube here, if you’ve also bolstered your walking, running or hiking routine since quarantine began.
My family has always walked. For that matter, my parents were/are movers (particularly my father) and centered movement as fundamental to our wellbeing. I can remember countless Sunday family walks along scenic Lake Michigan in the city of Milwaukee where I grew up, family bike rides, and some version of exercise or sport at the heart of many weekly activities. The women in my family have always walked. My mother and sister made a ritual of it some years back, taking daily walks through the Milwaukee neighborhood I grew up in, bonding and staying fit in the process. Living in New York, my other sister and I would take the long stroll from point A to point B, whenever time allowed, enjoying New York City architecture, people watching, and the sensation of moving after sitting for hours during a play, for a great meal out, or whatever we had just done together.
It’s easy to imagine with the plethora of movement and exercise modalities available today that it requires a ton of resources to stay healthy. But if you have two legs that are free of physical limitations, walking is one of the best forms of free exercise there is. And there’s a ton of research out there to prove it. If you have 30-minutes a day, you can heal your life by walking.
Last summer I had the privilege of attending Stress Protest, a Radical Weekend of Self-care, a jaw-dropping, epic retreat for Black women put on by the awe-inspiring Girl Trek health and healing movement. Through Stress Protest, GirlTrek has achieved an odds-defying feat in their capacity to harness the simple power of walking into a social justice movement for thousands of Black American women. In the spirit of the Civil Rights movement, these walks protest the stress that kills Black women at alarmingly disproportionate rates. GirlTrek members are activists in the fight for their own and the lives of countless Black women and girls.
At Stress Protest 2019, I was one of more than 500 women that ascended upon Rocky Mountain National Park, headed straight to “the Mountaintop” for a weekend of more life-affirming and joy-inducing activities than it’s possible to name or list here. I had never witnessed anything like this. From hiking the Rocky Mountain trails, to archery, all kinds of dance classes from the African diaspora, mental health wellness resources, prayer circles, sound baths, yoga classes, ancestral spiritual guide connection, plant-based cooking classes, and so much more, Black women literally experienced a revolutionary mind-body-spirit transformation in three days. Though wellness retreats are not new to me as both a facilitator and participator in retreats for POC for decades, during Stress Protest, I alternated between feeling overcome as an awe-struck observer and a jubilant participant during this unforgettable retreat. Like an out of body experience, there were times when I had to step back and pinch myself as I beheld the magnitude of spiritual good that was occurring right before my eyes.
Some activities, like rollerskating, transported me to that time of childhood before I had internalized the many false narratives provoked by systemic racism. A silent killer of Black women and girls, these narratives stealthily eroded my sense of delight with myself and the world. Though they may be less often measured than the more obvious health impacts of disease on the body, those narratives (believing I was somehow invalid, or less than, or unworthy of love, being heard, or making a contribution) and the rupture they created between me as a Black girl, now woman, and my body as a resource for resilience was significant. Today I know well after years of centering my own wellbeing, that it is my human right to experience both health and joy. Stress Protest affirmed and elevated this truth in experiential ways that you’d have to explore for yourself at the next Stress Protest to truly understand.
At present, I am steadfast in my gratitude for knowing that during the many months to come of isolation, this ritual of reclaiming my body and my mental health through the simple but profound practice of a walk outdoors (with a mask and by keeping 6 feet from passersby) is one certain thing that will keep me from dying, from withering away physically, spiritually and mentally during these uncertain quarantined times and beyond.