World Labyrinth Days highlight how this form of ‘walking meditation’ can benefit everyone

Following a labyrinth is a spiritual practice that’s good for body, mind and spirit. 

It leads to increased calm, reduced blood pressure and stress, and improved mental health and well-being, say researchers and patient care experts at St. Joseph’s Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care (Southwest Centre). 

On World Labyrinth Days - May 3 and May 4, staff, patients and residents at St. Joseph’s are invited to join thousands across the globe who “walk as one at 1 pm.” 

While books and movie culture often show labyrinths as places where people get hopelessly lost, ground-breaking studies conducted through Lawson Health Research Institute show labyrinths can be just the opposite: they’re places people can find hope and find themselves. 

Unlike mazes that are puzzles with many choices and many dead ends, labyrinths have continuous lines that lead to and from the centre.  

“Walking a labyrinth is a form of walking mediation,” says Rev. Stephen Yeo, spiritual care practitioner at Southwest Centre and a Lawson researcher. “It is a wonderful way to look after one’s body, mind and spirit. It is a very inclusive practice, regardless of how you engage the sacred in your life and in the world.” 

There are two permanent labyrinths at Southwest Centre – one indoors and one outdoors. In addition, this spiritual tradition is available at all St. Joseph’s sites. The Parkwood Institute Mental Health Care Building has an indoor labyrinth in the Multifaith Room and an outdoor labyrinth as well—all of them suitable for people who walk or wheel.  

In addition, Mount Hope and St. Joseph’s Hospital each have finger labyrinths available for meditation in their multifaith rooms. Other labyrinth opportunities exist across sites including an opportunity to walk a portable labyrinth at the Parkwood Institute Main Building in the Multifaith Room every Friday at noon. 

Southwest Centre in Elgin County also has a portable labyrinth, with lines painted on canvas, that’s often used at other locations. “Have labyrinth, will travel,” Stephen quips. 

For nearly a decade, he has facilitated walking labyrinths at Southwest Centre with larger groups during seasonal times of solstice and equinox, as a purposeful step that’s also part of truth and reconciliation practices with Indigenous peoples. 

“While it may be world labyrinth day this weekend, it’s labyrinth day here at Southwest Centre regularly as something that’s incorporated into our care and practice,” Stephen says. 

The research team’s work examining the benefits of labyrinth-walking in a forensic mental health care setting has been cited globally. 

Says principal investigator Clark Heard, “I see significant benefit in labyrinth-walking in settings such as mental health care facilities, although I would stress that these benefits could also be generalized to any participant in a community setting.” 

“Walking a labyrinth is a regenerative and restorative experience that helps people connect with the personally sacred,” says Clark, who is an occupational therapist at Southwest Centre and is an Associate Scientist at Lawson.  

They promote self-care, hope, resilience and coping. They help connect people to the spiritual side of themselves and to relationships sacred to ourselves and the environment. 

“Our team’s work identified that labyrinth participation can support meaning-making in the most difficult of circumstances, while at the same time making room for important aspects of mental wellness such as the quest for hope and search for meaning,” Clark says. 

Stephen first walked a labyrinth three decades ago during a retreat at a monastery in Winnipeg. It became part of his regular practice of engaging the sacred in his life, and he is now a certified labyrinth facilitator. 

“A labyrinth is so simple that you don’t need someone to lead you through. Whether it's facilitated or not, a person inevitably benefits from walking one,” he says.