Labyrinth Walking As a Spiritual Exercise

The Benefits of a Walking Meditation

Woman walking a labyrinth made of rocks

Mimi Ditchie Photography / Getty Images

Labyrinth walking is an ancient practice used by many different faiths for spiritual centering, contemplation, and prayer. Entering the serpentine path of a labyrinth, you walk slowly while quieting your mind and focusing on a spiritual question or prayer.

Walking a labyrinth is a form of active meditation which is unique from meditation while standing still, sitting, or lying down. Active meditation provides many benefits, and labyrinth walking is a unique spiritual experience. Learn more about labyrinth walking meditation and its potential benefits.

What Is a Labyrinth?

A labyrinth is not a maze. It has no blind alleys or dead ends as mazes have. It is unicursal (one line), meaning there is only one path to the center and back out. The path twists and turns back on itself many times before reaching the center. Once at the center, there is only one way back 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.

Patterns range from simple to complex, and sizes of labyrinths vary. Walking a labyrinth requires you to merely follow the pattern, with no puzzle to figure out. This lets your mind focus on your meditation or prayer.

The labyrinth symbolizes a journey to a predetermined destination (such as a pilgrimage to a holy site) or the journey through life from birth to spiritual awakening to death. Labyrinths can be made of stone, wood, plants (such as hedges), or other materials. They may even be painted on a floor.

History

Labyrinth images are found in many cultures. The term is of ancient Greek origin, and the labyrinth in the palace of Knossos in Crete figures in Greek mythology. Labyrinths are present in Hindu and Hopi images, among many others.

In Christian usage, a labyrinth was constructed in stone on the floor of Chartres Cathedral near Paris around 1200 A.C.E. The faithful could make a pilgrimage journey to the cathedral and complete it by walking the labyrinth as the final symbol of a journey to the Holy Land.

In Christianity, labyrinth walking was also used as an act of repentance for sins. The penitent might walk it on their knees. Labyrinths are found in many Gothic cathedrals throughout Europe.

How to Walk a Labyrinth

Today, there is no set ritual for walking a labyrinth, but there are books and lectures to assist you in performing a labyrinth walk. The essential advice is to enter the labyrinth slowly, calming and clearing your mind. You may do this by repeating a prayer or chant.

Open your senses and focus on the process of taking slow and deliberate steps. Bring to mind a prayer or spiritual question to contemplate during the walk to the center.

Reaching the center, pause to reflect, pray, and listen for an answer or more profound revelation. Now begin the return journey. Pray or reflect further. Upon exiting, absorb the experience with continued reflection, prayer, or journaling.

The book "Walking a Sacred Path" by Lauren Artress, DMin, can help you learn more about labyrinths. The author, a psychotherapist and Episcopal priest, lectures widely on labyrinths and labyrinth walking. She explores the history and significance of the image of the labyrinth and explains how you can use it to lead yourself to new sources of wisdom, change, and renewal.

Benefits of Labyrinth Walking

Meditatively walking a labyrinth can be surprisingly calming and clarifying for your thoughts. Even if you don't have a spiritual side, slow, intentional walking in a quiet place on a set path allows for a level of focus that can be difficult to find in a busy life.

The path of the traditional Chartres design weaves back and forth and takes you seemingly close to the destination at the center, then sends you off on many more zig-zags before you once again appear to be nearing the center.

This can bring to mind expectations about goals and how unpredictable tangents can arise in life. Using this time to reflect on your expectations and goals and letting those thoughts arise without judgment may offer you peace or unique new outlooks on your life.

If others are walking the labyrinth, you'll at times approach them on your path and then be sent farther away. This can bring to mind how people enter and leave your life, allowing you to process those thoughts and feelings.

If the labyrinth is set up indoors, it may be in a darkened room with candlelight to set a calming and reflective mood. Outdoors, a labyrinth is often in a sheltered area surrounded by trees to shield walkers from extraneous sights and sounds.

Where to Find Labyrinths

Labyrinths are most often found on the grounds of churches and spiritual retreat centers. The World-Wide Labyrinth Locator allows you to search by country, city, state, and zip code. The listings include descriptions, directions, open hours, and photos.

The Labyrinth Society lists upcoming labyrinth seminars, group walks and lectures throughout the US. There may be a local labyrinth club in your area. The spiritual season of Lent, preceding Easter, is often a time when churches host labyrinth walks and lectures. Search for labyrinths in your area and see if any of them are hosting such events.

You can also create your own temporary labyrinth by using a basic labyrinth pattern and laying out stones and sticks, drawing it in the sand, or using chalk. More permanent labyrinths are created with garden paths, plantings, and rocks.

A Word From Verywell

Labyrinth walking is a form of active meditation that can help you break free of thoughts or behaviors, allowing you to focus your intentions or clear your mind as you let your body move through the pre-determined pathway. Learning more about how to walk a labyrinth and what to expect can help you make the most of your experience.

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2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Lizier DS, Silva-Filho R, Umada J, Melo R, Neves AC. Effects of reflective labyrinth walking assessed using a questionnaire. Medicines (Basel). 2018;5(4):111. doi:10.3390/medicines5040111