Heady herbs, dewy leaves and whirring bees wind through a meditation labyrinth in Ohio. Wander. Touch. Listen. And learn how to cultivate mindfulness in your garden.

By Teresa Woodard; Photographer: Bob Stefko
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Aerial of labyrinth garden with three on meditative walk

When she first tried meditation, Annamarie Fernyak struggled with sitting still. So she started walking. “When you’re in a walking meditation, the process is essentially the same,” she explains, “but there’s a lot more to keep your mind occupied.”

A spirited talker and big dreamer, Annamarie owns Mind Body Align, a wellness start-up in Mansfield, Ohio. She and her husband, Carl, live on an acreage in nearby Lucas—and over the years, they’ve logged a lot of miles on foot. Around the farm. At local parks. Along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. And through several meditation labyrinths.

The labyrinth from above.

Unlike the tricky mazes of myth or childhood, labyrinths have a fixed path. You can’t get lost. But experts say following the narrow, repetitive turns calms and releases the mind for peaceful or spiritual reflection. The practice spans ancient cultures and religions across the globe, and today many hospitals install labyrinths for patients and families.

When Annamarie first imagined a labyrinth on her farm, she pictured a spiral of stones in the grass. As she collaborated with garden designer Dwight Oswalt, the concept grew to 88 feet in diameter, with a stacked-stone perimeter wall and crushed-gravel path. The pattern echoes a floor labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France, but it’s three-dimensional and lush with grasses, herbs, perennials and annuals, including many natives and pollinator favorites. “It’s meant to be very tactile,” Annamarie says, “with plants to touch, feel and eat.”

Along the walk, you might pause to study the pincushion intricacy of a sunflower’s seed head, watch a bee on a flower, trail fingers through undulating grasses or pluck a stem of aromatic mint. Annamarie finds that a garden’s diverse colors, textures, smells and sounds enhance the meditative experience of following the labyrinth’s path. “Every single walk is different,” she says. “And that’s the beauty.”

Walk this Way

You can find public labyrinths across the Midwest, but any outdoor space will do for a meditative walk. Annamarie shares her tips.

Location

Though the natural environs of your backyard or a hiking trail are ideal, every trip on foot can be turned into a mindful walk. (“Even one to the coffee shop,” Annamarie says.) You just have to intend to be present.

Intention

Begin by committing your walk to a gratitude reflection, a specific prayer, a dedication to someone or a focus on one sensation.

Awareness

As you walk, focus on the details around you. Crunching stones. Birdsong. Filtered sunlight. The dent on a mailbox. Fully experience the moment by engaging all five senses. “Notice what you see, what you smell, what you hear, what you taste and what you touch,” Annamarie says.

Reflection

If you’re walking with someone else, take time later to share your experience. “We learn so much from other people,” Annamarie says. “Others may have similar experiences but notice things we didn’t.” If walking solo, try journaling reflections from your walk.

The Mindful Entrepreneur

Annamarie Fernyak

In 2015, mindfulness teacher Annamarie Fernyak launched Mind Body Align in Mansfield, Ohio, to connect local women through wellness workshops, meditation and yoga. She hosts occasional walks for members in her labyrinth. Learn more on Mind Body Align’s Facebook page. Or download her app, Align Mindfulness, for daily questions that prompt you to pause, reflect and be present amid the go-go-go of life.