The benefits of walking a labyrinth
History and Use
The labyrinth is a symbol for spiritual development and inner growth which is found in many cultures. In Greek mythology a labyrinth was first designed and built for King Minos of Crete, with examples found on Cretan coins as early as 430BC. In Christian usage, a labyrinth was constructed in stone on the floor of Chartres Cathedral near Paris around 1200 AC. Labyrinths are also present in Hindu and Hopi images, amongst many others.
Whilst the term labyrinth is often seen as synonymous with a maze, a labyrinth is in fact not a maze. It has no blind alleys or dead ends as mazes have, but instead is unicursal, meaning there is only one path to the centre and one back out.
Walking a labyrinth
Labyrinth walking is an ancient practice that has been used by many different faiths for spiritual contemplation and prayer. Walking a labyrinth requires you to merely follow the pattern or path, with no navigational puzzle to figure out. This lets your mind settle on your meditation or prayer. In this way, the labyrinth may be seen to represent the journey to our own centre and back out again into the world.
Walking a labyrinth may be divided into three distinct phases as shown below:
The inward journey – you may wish to begin with a moment of reflection before you step into the labyrinth. Some may focus on a particular issue or concern at this point, or you may simply like to settle and breathe before beginning your journey. The inward path, with a theme of letting go, is an opportunity to quieten the mind and open the heart. Allow yourself to feel what may come up, focusing on your breath and footstep. Trust your intuition about the pace to walk and trust in your journey.
The centre – This can be a place of illumination, prayer, peace and stillness. You may like to reflect on any insights which emerged on your inward journey and any ideas or feelings you may wish to take with you on the journey back out.
The outward journey – as you walk out from the centre, you may wish to focus on your insights and how you may take them out into the world. Some may like to focus on relationships on this part of the pathway, including your relationship with yourself, with others and the world. Once you come to the end of the outward path, you may wish to pause for a moment to let the experience settle before you step out.
There is no set time for how long it takes to walk a labyrinth since each one is unique. Some may take only 5 minutes, while others may be significantly longer. It is perfectly okay to politely let someone pass you or for you to pass another on the path, as determined by your walking pace and direction.
An alternative to walking
An alternative option for those who prefer, or for whom a labyrinth is not an accessible or convenient option, is to print out a labyrinth design on paper and trace the pathway to the centre and back with your finger. This can bring about similar benefits of contemplation, stillness and focus, as can be found when walking a labyrinth. Websites that provide examples of labyrinths you can download are listed in the references section at the end of this article.
The first labyrinth I walked was many years ago in Kyneton, in country Victoria. Constructed in 2007-8, at the Lady of the Rosary Church, it is a beautiful glazed mosaic tile labyrinth, designed as a replica of the famous Chartres labyrinth. A small group of us set off one afternoon from the town centre and headed to the church grounds where we walked the labyrinth, in our own time and manner. We then headed back to a local café to chat about the experience. It was a wonderful moment and one I enjoyed sharing with others. Since then, I have walked a few other different labyrinths, mostly on my own, and enjoyed each experience.
Peace and alignment
Labyrinth walking is a unique spiritual experience, a bit like a walking meditation. Although the designs and patterns of a labyrinth range from simple to complex, and sizes of labyrinths can vary, each offers the opportunity to bring about a greater sense of stillness, alignment and inner peace, which we can then take with us into the world beyond.
By Kerrie Clayton
Kerrie has been a member of the AHHCA for 10 years and is currently part of its Committee of Management. She is a qualified Holistic Health Practitioner and Reiki Master. Kerrie may be contacted via www.wellnesswithkerrie.com