Listening to Your Body

Taking a break going over the Pyrenees was good advice for these two weary pilgrims.

Taking a break going over the Pyrenees was good advice for these two weary pilgrims.

I’ve written before on the importance and beauty of training your body to walk the Camino. No matter what you do for a living, walking each and every day with a pack on your back will be a change of pace and your body will begin to exhibit changes; fat will slowly drop away, muscles and skin will get tougher, and foot soles will become more padded to account for the increased daily footfalls. In the process, however, it is so important to stay aware of what your body tries to tell you.

Pain stinks big time, but it is an incredible part of our bodies’ defense systems and key to our survival. Pain allows us to know to avoid anything that is too hot or cold or sharp, and thus to avoid much harm to our bodies. Pain lets us know when an activity we’re doing starts to damage our bodies, or warns us from trying to do too much in the first place. It is a great gift, and despite what you may think, it is your friend on the Camino.

Far too many pilgrims don’t learn this. Many, year after year, fail to take note of their need for water, different shoes, a break, less weight in their packs, or a good night’s rest, and end up with strained ligaments and tendons, shin splints, and even stress fractures. There will be pain without serious threat of injury, of course; muscles get sore overnight and cry out in protest when you get out of bed, and blisters turn up on skin no matter how well your shoes fit, but even these are your body’s way of telling you to take it slow, don’t push yourself past your limit, and wait for your calluses to form and your muscles to get stronger before pushing yourself harder.

You will experience more than pain, however; as your body gets stronger, your pleasure from walking will grow. The delight of moving at a good pace, the satisfaction of easing your feet on a break after a long stretch, the refreshment of cool water on a hot day, and the total relaxation of an afternoon nap are only a few of the simple pleasures the Camino will offer to you as you walk. In the midst of the pain and discomfort, these simple pleasures will comfort you and encourage you onward farther than you would have imagined.

It is very easy to ignore these simple pains and pleasures at home; in the first world we have medication for pain and artificial ways to enhance pleasure beyond human norm, but part of the beauty of the Camino is the way it calls us to experience our pains and pleasures as they come. Pain must be weathered as wisdom and strength dictate, and pleasures comes as a gift or reward for hard work. Learn to hear what your body is telling you, and it will be one of the best gifts of the Camino that you take home.

Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. His dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. He currently lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife Stephie, who is walking her first Camino right now with Hunter.