It’s All In Our Heads

It’s All In Our Heads

I watched a program on PBS the other day about a man exploring the Appalachian Mountains. One of the people he met with was a woman who has walked the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine four times. She has competed to do it in the least amount of time and was successful in having done so in just under 47 days. The distance is 2,190 miles. This means she walked about 47 miles a day.

She said that her experience has been therapeutic. She self-reflects, observes things around her, and feels, at times, like she is in a meditative state. There are markers along the way, but she sometimes discovered she had gone off the trail and had to retrace the path to make a correction. So, there was cognitive thinking involved.

As she spoke, I reflected on the times I could identify with her experience.

Initially, I fast walked on a treadmill in my home every day for 40 minutes. I had a television on. Sometimes I was aware of a segment I had watched. More often, I was unable to remember the specificity of what I had thought of or reflected on during my walk. I experienced it as split-second thoughts. I suspected I likely had touched on a hundred subjects; perhaps it was what I would wear that day, what I would cook for a meal, how I felt about a news item, and on and on.

In California, I joined a gym and discovered I had the same experience. On the treadmill and bike, I rarely walked away with any specific memories of my thoughts. When the gym closed, I began to walk each day, about a mile. There are five routes I take, and over 28 months, I am very familiar with them. I can be walking and suddenly realize I passed homes I usually paid attention to. Sometimes I am near the end of my journey and remember when I began the walk that morning anticipating how long it would take. Somehow, I was so immersed in thought, I was not paying attention to the path at all.

I am not able to delineate anything specific about this with data, but I am convinced it has been an enhancement to my mental health. My mind will process tidbits of business with no interruption. It is similar to dreaming. We find a way to bypass our conscious thoughts and allow ourselves an opportunity to deal with tidbits of things.

I know my body has profited from the walks. I am convinced my way of being in the world has profited too. I have no plan to stop.
Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to or through her website,