After the tragic loss of Jono Lineen’s younger brother, he experienced walking’s regenerative power firsthand...
He spent eight years living in the Himalayas, where he would read, write, engage in Buddhist practice. He also took up something that would end up changing his life – he would walk. Lineen ended up embarking on a 2700km solo trek through the Himalayas and has now written a book called Perfect Motion How Walking Makes Us Wiser. As we move further into this global pandemic, Lineen is passionate about educating people on the healing power of simply walking.
Here, he shares his journey…
After the tragic loss of your younger brother, you experienced walking’s regenerative power firsthand. Can you share what have you learnt about grief through walking?
Grief for me is in many ways like stress, unchecked it eats away and takes over your life. Grief can become a closed box into which it’s very difficult for positive thoughts to enter. What walking does is take you out of yourself. When you walk a whole series of neurochemical, neuro-electrical and neuro-activity changes take place that let you break out the compressed, ruminative thinking that grief forces on us. Simply put walking gives us perspective.
You spent 8 years living in the Himalayas – what was your daily life like there?
My time in the Himalayas was very simple. I would read, write, engage in Buddhist practice, and walk a lot. That time was a gift – it was a time when I let my mind and body roam freely.
How have you taken the simplicity and purity you experienced in the Himalayas into your life now?
I still walk and meditate every day and I’m mindful of how lucky I am to have a wonderful family, good health, and an inquisitive mind. But I have to work at it, I make time to be grateful for what I have.
What lead you to go on a 2700km solo trek through the Himalayas?
Initially when I undertook that 2700 km trek I was a young guy who thought that being the first person to walk the Western Himalayas solo would be a cool thing to do, but as the walk continued through month after month of trekking 30-40 km every day I started to change. Magic happened every day on that walk, beautiful interactions with people and places started to open me up. I became deeply connected to the world around me. It was an incredible time but it took me years to finally understand that the walk really was about coming to terms with the death of my little brother. When I realized that it was a lightning bolt of wisdom that finally let me integrate and then put the loss of Gareth behind me.
What was the most challenging part of this trek?
The most challenging part of the trek was being vulnerable. As I said I started the walk being a young guy full of confidence and independence but I quickly realized that I had to trust the people I met on the trail and when I was finally able to commit to that then I was able to rebuild the faith in humanity that I had lost in the aftermath of my brother’s tragic death.
What did you learn about humanity during this trek?
As I said the walk re-instilled my faith in humanity. The sudden death of a loved one and the crippling grief that comes with that can steal your faith in humanity, the future and even yourself. The trek forced me to rely on others, for navigation and sometimes food and shelter – and the people of the Himalayas were incredibly generous and compassionate. Those abundant qualities were what helped me break out of the shell of grief.
What are some tips on coming back to society gleaned from your experience of trekking the Himalayas solo?
It was important for me to define what was good about that extended trek. For me the simplicity and open-heartedness of that time is what made it magical and so I try to remember those things when I meditating or out for a walk and being mindful of how good they were for me I can more easily incorporate them into my daily life.
When you talk about walking – does it have to be a longer walk or can short strolls have a positive impact on us?
Any walk is a good walk. From a fitness perspective even getting up from your desk and walking to the photocopier at work is a good walk. However, if you want the full psychological and creative benefits of walking then you should aim to walk at least 30-40 minutes, which gives your brain enough time to work through the neurological changes that let it break out of its ‘normal’ functioning.
Talk us through how walking strengthens your memory?
When you walk the brain releases a neurotrophin called Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) which is a protein essential to the building and maintenance of the networks through which thought takes place. And when we walk the flow of BDNF increases specifically in the hippocampus which is the area of the brain associated with memory and pattern recognition. So, by walking we’re actually strengthening the networks that create, hold, and release memory.
Walking promotes creativity but does this change if you’re talking on your phone? Or listening to a Podcast? Should we walk without distraction?
If you don’t get out for a walk then you won’t benefit from the ways that walking promotes creativity – so if you need a podcast or music to get you out the door by all means use them. However, keep in mind that the really magical neurological benefits start to happen after walking 30-40 minutes, so when you feel your mind start to drift when you feel the expansiveness that comes with those changes, then turn your phone off and drop into the moment.
What life lessons do you hope COVID-19 will teach us?
Slow down. Covid-19 has been a defining moment for the modern world. It’s been scary and stressful but at the same time the slowing of life’s pace has given many people the gift of perspective. And many have realized that the rat race is not for them. My hope is that everyone has the chance to do a little evaluation in the midst of this incredible event.