During a recent Wednesday morning Nordic Walking class- for ‘graduates’ of our courses or Beginner’s workshops- we all tried out a distinctive breathing technique: le Marche d’Afghan (Afghan walking). Intrigued? Read on.
A Frenchman- Edouard Stiegler- spent time in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He was already keen on walking so took note of the vast distance, continued for several days, calmly walked by the Maldars- a nomadic community. When he first met them, they had just arrived after a 700 km journey over 12 days, yet did not look exhausted physically nor in low spirits. After spending some time getting to know this group and walking together, he wrote a book based on his learning of their breathing technique in particular. He was certain this was the magic ingredient in their incredible distance walking skills.
The Maldars breathed through their noses not their mouths when walking. Incidentally, this increases nitric oxide in our bodies which boosts our immune systems. They tended to take 3 slow steps while they breathed in, held their breath on their 4th step, then breathed out whilst walking 3 steps, then paused breathing for the 4th step. They kept the pattern going continually.
I have found this a bit slow for my Nordic Walking so use a cycle of 4 steps as I breathe in or breathe out and pause breathing on my 5th step. I don’t use this breathing technique the entire time but just for parts of my Nordic Walk. We tried this out in the class as we walked along one section of Eastville Park. Everyone was quiet and serious as they concentrated on counting and breathing. It made the bird sounds appear clearer to me. Some students found it difficult, quite a few enjoyed it, others were unsure. Comments were:
“It was difficult as I had to focus on my breathing for a change.”
“It felt like meditation.”
“It is not easy to breathe out through my nose, not my mouth.”
Our breath not only keeps us living, it can also help us manage pain better, boost our immune systems, and repair our bodies after injuries or operations. Our mental health benefits too: more thoughtful, fuller breathing lowers our cortisol levels which go up when we are stressed or anxious. You don’t need to try Afghan/nomadic breathing but even just giving your full attention to your breath more often, especially whilst doing any form of movement- Nordic Walking, going up the stairs at work, or cleaning the kitchen floor- will have an effect on your body and mind. It costs nothing so why not give it a try?
That class felt a vivid example of the commitment to diversity and inclusion our Nordic Walking Wellness programme is founded on: Nordic Walking trying a breathing technique used by a nomadic Afghani community, taught by a Sri Lankan Nordic Walking instructor.