Labyrinth — Walking for Body and Soul

Trying to promote good health? Instead of getting your heart rate up three times a week for 30 minutes at a stretch, try slowing down and walking in circles: Labyrinths, long a tool for healing the soul, may also have a number of health-enhancing benefits.

According to Stephen Wright, M.B.E., F. R.C.N., chairman of the Sacred Space Foundation in England, walking a labyrinth brings many of the same benefits as meditation — relaxation, lower blood pressure, clarity and a general sense of well-being. But health care professionals like Wright speak most highly of the labyrinth's ability to facilitate health by not separating the physical from the spiritual: "If we become spiritually at one with ourselves, then we are de facto more likely to be healthy," says Wright.

The spooled footpath of the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (modeled after the world-famous labyrinth at Chartres) is indeed consoling. Walkers simply put one foot in front of the other until they reach the center, the place of "illumination." The Rev. Lauren Artress, author of Walking a Sacred Path (Riverhead) and the impetus behind Grace's program to introduce labyrinths into hospitals, senior centers, schools and prisons, calls the labyrinth a "safe container," where people can "meet themselves, have a heart-to-heart talk with themselves"— and get a workout that stretches both body and soul.

— Colleen Morton