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Why Walking = Wellness 

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Anshu Bahanda:  This is Anshu Bahanda on Wellness Curated. Thanks for joining me on this podcast. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness so that you can then go and empower others. 

Today, I have someone who walks for a living and he enhances other people’s life experience on Earth by helping them walk. I’m delighted to welcome Toby Clarke. Toby is to walking what David Attenborough is to nature. He was born in the beautiful island of Ibiza and he moved away when he was ten years old. He moved to the UK, but he always longed to go back. Toby’s love of walking and nature has made him give up a really lucrative career ten years ago to return to the island of Ibiza. 

So, I will start with our first question. What is wellness to you?

Toby Clarke: I love that question. And wellness to me has got to come from every part of our body and our mind and our soul. I think when people say wellness is just one part of it, I don’t agree. So, it’s getting up, jumping out of bed, which I don’t always jump out of, but that’s my intention. And for my mind to feel good and happy, to be alive and awake that day, and then also for my whole body just to feel good as well. Those first steps out of bed, when you’re a bit stiff in the mornings, is feeling good and then following on from that, going through the whole day, feeling alive and well and in happiness as well. I think it goes hand in hand. If you’re not feeling happiness, then you don’t feel wellness. So, for me, it’s a combination of everything that all of our senses need to be eating happy food and going through the whole day in a beautiful way. 

AB: Now, Toby, you had told me this absolutely mind-blowing story about how you got into walking, so I’d love you to share that. 

TC:  I’m one of the blessed ones. I was lucky enough to be born on this magical island of Ibiza, born to hippie parents, and I was taken off the island when I was ten years old and went to England. But I always really longed to come back. And then when I was sort of getting older, I kept coming back here on a holiday. But I thought I needed to come back on a more permanent basis. Got a beautiful wife in England and we both decided to have a massive change in our life. So, we decided to give up corporate life. My wife and I were in the corporate life, and used to wear a shirt and a tie every day, believe it or not. And we gave everything up. We went traveling around the world for a year and then came to Ibiza. And at that moment we didn’t know what we were going to do here. We had an amazing experience traveling and I was really a bit lost in my purpose in life. I’ve had jobs before but they weren’t really what I wanted to do. And I came up with this brainwave or it came to me. I remember the exact moment it came to me and I had this sort of shiver through my body. And the idea that came and the thought that came after that was that I should try and walk around the entire coastline of Ibiza. And for people maybe who don’t know Ibiza, it’s not a huge island, the coastline is about 200 km. 

So, the night before I left, I was having this moment of what do I need to take with me? I got a backpack. I’d never really walked that distance before in my life at all. And I decided to take my backpack. A very simple tent. I did get some hiking sandals but I was still wearing jeans and things. It was really my initial beginning to do this sort of adventure. And the night before I was getting ready, I decided to look through what I needed to take. So, the credit cards for food to buy stuff, wallets, phones, and everything else. But something made me open up a drawer and throw everything in that drawer. My wallet, my credit cards, or my money. I thought I needed to do this with something else to make it more of an adventure for me. And as I closed the drawer, this little noise happened inside. If you know when a coin goes and then drops. And I opened up the drawer and there was a 1 Euro coin there. So, I thought, wow, I’m supposed to walk around the whole island and try to survive with 1 Euro. And I literally went off a few days later. My very sensible wife did say at least try and take our own food and water for the first 24 hours. So, she gifted me that food and water for the first 24 hours and I set off from the port of Ibiza. And I just thought I want to keep the water on my left and keep going. And that’s exactly what I did. In the end, it took me eleven days to circumnavigate the whole coastline. And I found out then how to forage, how to live off the land, and how to live off the beauty of other people. Because of all the times when I asked people for food and for help and for water, and I also had my little nine-month-old puppy Cosmo with me. I only got refused at one time. Every other time, people happily, gladly gave me some fruit off the tree or opened up their fridge and welcomed me in, or the bars and restaurants also were very happy. Apart from one time. Most people are beautiful people. 

AB: That’s incredible. Tell me, Toby, we’re at this point now where all over the world people are saying walking is the best exercise. People are doing a lot of research and then coming back and recommending that you need to walk. Why do you think walking gives you wellness?

TC:  I absolutely love these studies that are done around the world and they come back and say walking is good for you. And they’ve spent 3 million doing a study on it. It’s just like, come on, it’s obvious that going for a walk is good for you. But I also love that there’s some scientific proof, which a lot of people feel like they need to believe. But for me, I know we all spend too long looking at screens, and computers, and not being out in nature enough, and our brains need to be out in the wild and looking at trees and hearing the birds and the bees and everything else. And I think it’s just beautiful for our soul at a soul level, it really helps us connect back with who we are. And there’s been so many studies that it’s great for thinking and it’s great for depression, great for all sorts of problems that are really rife on our planet at the moment. And the simplest cure is to go out. Start out just with a 20-minute walk. I think we can all squeeze this into our day and just go out for 20 minutes. And then if you get the bug, you might do 30 minutes. And then you never know, you might do a twelve-day walk around the island. 

AB: Oh, my God. That’s incredible. But tell me something, is there a correct way of walking? 

TC:  Is there a correct way of walking? We all do it when we’re about one year old and we start walking. And then what everyone does is— they put shoes on these very young babies or very young children. And really as very young children, the best thing for babies or kids to wear is nothing on their feet because it keeps the feet working the way they should. If you put shoes on, we do put shoes on babies because they look very cute and very cool as well. But we really need to walk. For me, I’ve gone through every sort of shoe in the world from a 300-euro pair of hiking boots. And now for me, the ones that work the best are the thinnest sole ones, where you’re really connecting with the movement and the feeling of your feet wrapping around the stones and the rocks and the pebbles and everything else. So, the correct way of walking when you’re just doing a little walk, don’t worry about it. Just go out and do a 20-minute walk and don’t worry about your breathing, don’t worry about what you’re supposed to be doing, just walk. If you’re going to go and do the Camino de Santiago or the beautiful routes around Avesta for a good eight-hour day or multiple-day activities, then yes, it’s worthwhile thinking a bit about how you’re walking. And you should walk while swinging your arms because your arms keep your spine in the right posture as you’re walking. Try and get a pair of shoes that’s got to be something that’s good for the person. And everyone has preferences, whether they wear huge boots or, like me, the thinnest possible little pair of sandals. There’s got to be what you’re happy with, but just get out and do it, and you’ll find the way. But swing your arms. If you’re doing long walks, walking poles are really good because they keep your posture up in a straight position. You just can tend to go a bit over if you’re walking long periods of time, but just get out there and do it. We’ve all been walking for millions of hundreds of thousands of years, so get out and do it and then you’ll feel amazing.

AB: So, you’re saying be comfortable, so wear footwear that’s comfortable. Swing your arms and if need be, take poles, walking poles. 

TC:  Especially if you’re doing slightly uneven walks. If you’re getting a bit more advanced and you think, I want to challenge myself by going up a hill that I’ve seen in my neighborhood, or join a group, go and do that, but maybe take a pair of walking poles to help you, stopping you from sliding down a little bit. And a great tip that I give on many of my walks is when you’re going downhill on slippery slopes, keep your nose over your toes. Everyone that comes to my walks will know that one. Basically, we slide because our weight is too far back. So, that’s when we slide. But if you move your weight and make sure your nose is always over your toes, you don’t slide as much, because then your weight is more on the balls of your feet and that stops you from sliding. If you’re going downhill on slippery slopes and stony little gravely downhill slopes, and just try even on pavement, next time you’re walking down a pavement that’s slightly downhill, just move your weight and put your nose slightly forward and you’ll feel that the posture is actually more comfortable to walking downhill. 

AB:  That’s interesting because instinctively when you’re going downhill, we all move backward, but you’re saying do the opposite. That’s very interesting. And tell me, how many steps do you recommend are the right amount of steps? Is it these 10,000 steps that everyone is talking about?

TC:  The 10,000 steps came about, and I’ve researched it, they actually had no idea what to come up with. He just came up with this fictitious figure of 10,000 steps. It’s become this thing that everyone strives to do every day or they have their Fitbit or whatever they’re doing their measuring on and I think it’s fantastic. At the beginning I was like, stupid, why do you need to have a figure just go out and walk? What it is doing is it’s making people look at their watch or whatever halfway through the day and if they haven’t done the 10,000 steps, they may be able to do it, which I think is fantastic. I think that’s a great motivational thing to do. For me, if I’m not doing any particular long walks with clients or going out for a longer exploration myself, I try to do between 3 and 5 km every day. If you need another inspiration, get a dog because when you sit at your computer too long, Cosmo comes and goes, hey, come on, it’s time to go out. But again, I just think, go out. And even if you’re just going to walk for five minutes, just go out and do it. Just get that first initial step going. That’s the most important thing. 

AB: Any other kit you would recommend, maybe for people doing longer, slightly longer walks?

TC: Sure. When you’re starting to do longer walks, you want to be able to take some things with you, like a snack, banana or an apple, some nuts or something like that. And of course, water is super important, even if it’s cold. You can get these great little backpacks with a [water] bladder, so you have a pouch of water in the back with a tube that comes around and then you could just sip on the water as you need to, and you’re not always stopping to get your water bottle out and have a drink. So, for me, that’s really an essential bit of kit. When you’re doing longer walks over 5 to 7, 8, 10 K, then you need to have a water supply and get a good backpack if you’re going to do longer walks as well. To feel comfortable, your kit should feel comfortable. So here in Ibiza now, it’s actually quite a cold day here, but we normally have like ten degrees when we start walking in the winter, and by lunchtime, it can be 20 and then it’s back down to ten again. So, it’s all about multiple layers. So, we start out with body warmers and jumpers and then they all come off again and then you put them all back on again. 

AB: And anything you would say that— don’t ever do this when you’re walking. 

TC: Don’t go out of your comfort zone, I’d say, especially if you’re going out for an exploration walk by yourself. Stay within your comfort zones. Don’t go off marked paths, I’d say, unless you really know the area. Every year, a lot of people die, even on this tiny little island of Ibiza. I think this year we’ve lost four people who have been out walking and slipped off an edge or fell down a shaft or something like that. And it does happen because there’s a lot of people out there walking. And always a really great thing to do is to, if you’re going on a longer walk, share your live location with a friend or family member. Just saying, yeah, I’m just going out for a walk, and they can see where you are. If you’re not back at dark, at least they can say, okay, he came back and forgot to switch it off, or, why is he still out and where is he? But I come back to the thing: enjoy it. 

AB: But that’s very good advice. Make sure someone knows where you are if you’re going further afield. But tell me, Toby, in all your ten years of walking, have you had any life-changing stories? Something that you know, that the walk has changed them forever?

TC: I’ve had multiple experiences of the simple act of walking changing someone’s life. And one that really comes to mind is every year after my 1 Euro walk, every year I do a twelve-day walk around the island. And I’ve been doing it for over ten years. And someone suggested some years ago, why don’t I try and help people that maybe couldn’t afford it because it’s not the cheapest trip, because it’s twelve days fully supported and everything. So, they said, why don’t I give one place away for free? And that was this lovely girl called Jo Youle. I got to give her a quick shout-out because it was her idea that inspired me. And she said it’s nice to give one place away for free. So, I thought about it. I thought, wow, that’s a lot of money to give away for free. But I sort of felt into myself, and so I said, okay, let’s do it. So, we sent out if you know someone who maybe needs a free place or would benefit from it in any way, we got down the shortlist and we eventually gave this place away. And it was this amazing girl whom we gave the place away to from Dublin, and she had been the victim of a hit-and-run accident, when she was, I think, somewhere 13 or 14 years old. A car hit her and pinned her against a wall. She fell over the back of the wall, and the guy just drove off and left her for dead. So, it was like, oh, my God. She remembered when she was younger that her mum said, if you ever need some help, don’t shout for help because no one comes. So, shout fire. So, she started shouting fire, and she realized she was there so she started shouting fire. And then someone heard her and came and rescued her and got in the ambulance and everywhere but she basically then spent the next four years in and out of hospitals and the hospital all said she wouldn’t walk again. So, she lost all of her teenage life, and then through pure determination, she’s a really determined, amazing girl, and through determination, she did manage to start walking again. She’s got scars all over her legs and pins everywhere but she started to walk again and she started to find the enjoyment of walking in the hills behind Dublin and she started to do little walks, just, I said one step at a time. Most of us listening have got amazingly good bodies but she really had to break through crazy pain and mind as well to get out walking again. When we gave her the place I was like, I’m not sure this is the right person we’ve given it to because how is she going to do a twelve-day walk around the island? And she said, it’s my goal, if I can walk around the island in twelve days, I know that’s me done and I can get on with the rest of my life. So, we met her, a beautiful soul, and at the end of the day she completed the twelve days, but only because of the group that helped her do that. We were amongst this group of people from all different walks of life, rich people, poor people, and we actually had to carry her through some of the days because she just couldn’t carry on walking. Her legs had had it, she got bad blisters and everything and when she actually eventually walked over that finish line, everyone was in tears. It was just amazing to see this girl and it made us feel how humble we were thinking, we’re having a hard day, but wow, what this girl had been through. And it changed her life after that. She got a fantastic job now, she’s brilliant and she actually messaged me to say she wants to come back and do the same trip again next year. So, for me, that is just incredible. 

AB:  That’s how you change people’s lives by walking and I’m sure you enhance a lot of people’s lives every day. 

TC:  I give them the space to come and do these things. At the end of the day, that space enables them to change themselves. I’m a modality on the way to doing it. I think everyone changes their own lives in their own way and there are amazing people around the world that just open up that space to enable it to happen. 

AB:  Do you sort of do meditative walks or walking meditation? Have you ever done that with people?

TC:  We do mindful walks. It’s a beautiful thing to do in nature and really slow down. I always find it very interesting, bringing people on the walks that are, say, living in a very high-powered, fast-paced job in the city, banking or lawyers or something. They’re just wanting to get from A to B. They’re not interested in anything along the way. It’s just their goal to do as many kilometers as they can on that day, tick it off the box, and then move on with the next day. And if you ask them in a year, what do they see on the walk? They wouldn’t think of anything. So, I quite often like to get these people that are on a walk and very much not ready to stop at all. I’ll get them to stop. And if I connect with them, take their shoes and socks off and then walk along a bit of a path that’s safe to walk on and just feel the soles of their feet on the ground, which they may not have done since they were kids. And then to get them to stop at a beautiful flower or a tree or something and look at it in great detail, all the little veins and everything on the leaf and everything else, can just trigger something. Not with everyone. But for that, I think, to get someone to slow down and do like a meditation or just walk in silence, even for five minutes, some people find that so hard to go out into nature with a group of people, and if I say we’re going to walk in silence for five minutes, some people cannot do it. They have to just do a sneaky little or talk to someone next to them. They can’t do it. And that’s the world we’re living in. I think that people find it very difficult to be in silence, and silence is also becoming less and less. Where can you go in the world now where there’s really no human noise anywhere?

AB:  So, Toby, you would recommend that people find a space where they can take off their shoes and just slow down, go in silence, notice the nature near them, maybe examine a tree or a leaf. That’s what you would recommend people try and do if they want to do a meditative mindful walk?

TC:  Absolutely. I live in Ibiza throughout and it’s very hippy-dippy, and some people are going, oh, my God, here goes Toby again. Go and look at a leaf and be silent and take your shoes and socks off. But once people try it, they get it. It’s just such a lovely thing to do. We don’t stop in our lives enough, and I’m guilty of it as well. I’m rushing around a lot and yes, I’m in nature beautifully a lot. But I also sometimes rush too much and just stop for a little bit and go, I’m just going to look at this leaf, how it is and how it’s made, or look at the bark of a tree, or give a tree a hug. Why not?

AB: Yeah, no, that’s magnificent. Tell us, Toby, do you have any advice?

TC:  I think the simplest thing is to get out and walk. Wherever you are in the world, there are generally walking groups. I started up walking in Ibiza with a very simple idea. There’re also some people that have asked for my help to set up walking groups in their local area. And if someone feels inspired to set up their own walking group, then get in contact with me and I can give some help. So, either just go out and go and do it, get out in nature, and enjoy life. 

AB:  And Toby, any advice for off balance and dizziness when walking?

TC: It depends because it’s coming about. Normally if you’re feeling a bit off, it’s maybe because you haven’t drunk enough water or you’re not breathing enough. Try and take some slightly deeper breaths. Pause for a little bit, lean against a tree, or sit down if you’re feeling really dizzy, and just let it come back. And it might be that you haven’t had so much oxygen in your body as well, because if you’re walking your breath, your breathing is getting more and you’re breathing more, your body might be going, oh, my God, what’s all this beautiful oxygen I’m getting in my body? So, that could also make you feel a little bit dizzy as well. 

AB:  Also sometimes, isn’t it low blood pressure, which makes people dizzy?

TC: It could be, yeah, it could be that as well. I’m not a doctor, so I wouldn’t know why that would come about, but just if you do feel a bit off balance, take it easy and seek someone’s help if you need to. 

AB: Thank you so much, Toby. That was a delightful chat. Thank you for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. And here’s to you leading your best life.