Walking the Labyrinth: Promoting Well-Being, Building Community

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On April 29th “Social Medicine Rounds in the Community” took us a few blocks from the hospital to the Ampark Community School, an elementary school that is part of the New York City School System.

We were greeted by the school’s Principal Betty Lopez Towey, a certified labyrinth facilitator. She is pictured here standing on the labyrinth. An energetic and enthusiastic woman (the perfect mixture for a grade school principal) she took us upstairs to a large room where the school’s labyrinth was laid out on the floor. For the next 45 minutes she taught us about labyrinths.

Labyrinths are increasingly used around the world to create spaces where people can meditate through walking. They have been constructed in a variety of settings: schools, churches, parks, forests, health care facilities, even prisons. The action of walking the labyrinth is designed to promote well-being, emotional, spriritual and physical.

The first labyrinth in a hospital was built in 1997 at the California Pacific Medical Center. We were fortunate enough to see a brief video clip of a stroke victim describing how the labyrinth helped her recover her sense of balance. [Unhappily, the CPMC website doesn't have a picture of their labyrinth, but we found one at this link.] Kaiser Permanente installed a wall-mounted finger labyrinth at their Walnut Creek Hospital in 2001. Labyrinthenterprises.com has a listing of well over 100 hospitals with labyrinths

Of course, the best part was actually getting to walk the labyrinth. As someone who has meditated in the past, I was struck by how easily my mind began to focus on the simple act of putting one foot in front of another. After a few twists and turns I had no idea of where I was in the labyrinth. I knew where I was going – first to the center and then back out – but I had no idea exactly where I was on that journey. This helped me to focus on the mechanics of my steps, in much the same way that quiet meditation involves a focus on breathing. The sense of disorientation was heightened a bit by occasional very sharp turns at a time when one’s concentration was focused on the feet. A hint of vertigo. But the overall effect was of feeling at peace.

When we left the School we discussed taking the TV out of our waiting room and installing a labyrinth. Or perhaps labyrinths of paper, wood or stone on which the anxious (and the not so anxious) could gently trace their finger, finding a spot of peace in a chaotic world.

Some labyrinth websites:

Labyrinth Resource Group

Veriditas

Labyrinth Enterprises

The Labyrinth Coalition

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2 Responses to “Walking the Labyrinth: Promoting Well-Being, Building Community”


  1. 1Delia Rosario

    I can proudly say that Betty Lopez-Towey, Principal of the AmPark Neighborhood School is my boss. I had never heard of the Labyrinth until the day of my interview with Betty and was very curious about it.

    I have walked the labyrinth three times, and I must say each experience has been different, but I have received a lot of serenity after the walk.

    It is great to know that there are labyrinth constructed in so many different facilities.

  2. 2Kirsten Brashares

    How great would it be to have have labyrinths in the NYC public schools?

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