Labyrinths benefit mental and physical health
By Adrianna Cunningham
Walking a labyrinth can alleviate anxiety and stress to promote a happy and healthy lifestyle. Many OSU employees and students walked the labyrinth during the grand opening during the fall semester in 2016. (PHOTO / PHIL SHOCKLEY)
The Cowboy family has a new way to relieve the stress of work and classes — walking the labyrinths. Oklahoma State University has created two labyrinths, on the main campus between Morrill Hall and Bartlett Center and another in The Botanic Garden at OSU.
A labyrinth is a meandering path with a purpose for meditation, reflection and movement. Many people mistake labyrinths for mazes, but they are quite the opposite. A maze attempts to confuse participants by including dead ends while a labyrinth is meant to relax and will only have one way out.
The campus labyrinth includes 12 benches numbered with roman numerals where anyone can meditate, relax or even study in peace.
Dave Brown, facilities management landscape coordinator, helped design the labyrinths. An important aspect of the campus labyrinth design is the use of sacred geometry.
“The design of the labyrinth was created by playing with the math and patterns of [Italian mathematician] Fibonacci,” Brown says. “The final layout that was chosen was one of the more simple patterns that would fit into the space and allow a wider path to accommodate wheelchairs, strollers and walkers more easily.”
Fibonacci’s math has been referred to as the golden ratio. This is found repeatedly in patterns and forms throughout nature. Brown loved the connection of these two aspects, which served as inspiration for his landscape designs. The three-sided shape of the labyrinth represents mind, body and spirit, a reminder that health is not limited to diet and exercise, but is much broader since all areas of health are interconnected.
Dave Brown designed the labyrinth near Morrill Hall using patterns from Italian mathematician Fibonacci. (PHOTO / PHIL SHOCKLEY)
Brown worked with Lou Anella, director of The Botanic Garden at OSU, to design the labyrinth in the garden. The two labyrinths are very different, but they serve the same purpose.
“The labyrinth design is a classical nine-circuit labyrinth,” Brown says. “Dr. Anella and his staff chose the site, and I assisted in choosing the labyrinth and drawing it into the space in AutoCAD.”
Unlike the labyrinth between Morrill Hall and the Bartlett Center, the labyrinth at the garden does not have pavement or seating, keeping it in a more nature-based setting.
“Ours is very, very simple,” Anella says. “The labyrinth is mowed into a field, so the path is just mowed and the rest we just let grow. It’s all Bermuda grass, so it won’t get higher than about a foot.”
Labyrinths serve many purposes. While they are a great way to get outside and be active, labyrinths also have other physical and mental health benefits, serving as relaxation tools.
“By the nature of being an academic environment, we encounter stress and anxiety through deadlines, tests, research or any number of things,” Brown says. “The labyrinth is OSU’s show of care and support to our community to provide a place for meditation, relaxation or even just a peaceful place to study.”
The new labyrinths help OSU foster America’s Healthiest Campus® initiatives. University Chief Wellness Officer Todd Misener believes the benefits are countless.
“Walking the labyrinth can help you relax or wind down in the middle or at the end of a stressful day,” Misener says. “Intentionally taking a short five- to 10-minute break from your day to walk a labyrinth can help you re-center yourself, lower your blood pressure and refocus on your day.”
While there are many health benefits to walking a labyrinth, Misener advises that the practice should be intentional. Walking a labyrinth without a goal of a positive, relaxing experience may not be helpful.
The labyrinth is illuminated at night outside of Morrill Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus. The meandering path provides a space for meditation, reflection and movement. A team from OSU Facilities Management was instrumental in developing the labyrinth.
"Walking a labyrinth is as much about the journey as it is about the destination,” Misener says.“It is a tool that can help you focus on how you are feeling — to cue you into how your body is feeling as a way to relax and reduce stress if that is your intention going into it.” The labyrinths also provide psychological benefits, says Cindy Washington, clinical counselor at the Student Counseling Center.
“The presence of a labyrinth in a community space lets it be known that being calm, peaceful and relaxed is important,” Washington says. “It is a reminder to focus on self and to take time to care for your mind and body. The OSU labyrinths make a clear statement that the university values the health and wellness of its students, staff and faculty as well as those who visit campus.”
The labyrinth experience differs user to user. Some people reported an increased sense of well-being or an epiphany they had been waiting to surface, while others have used the turns and changes in the curves of the labyrinth to regain balance lost due to poor health. However, most people simply use the calm environment for thought and reflection.
Landscape Coordinator Dave Brown, left, joins Chief Wellness Officer Todd Misener in dedicating the labyrinth on campus. (PHOTO / PHIL SHOCKLEY)
One of the most common experiences among people when regularly walking a labyrinth is more clear and insightful thoughts about different challenges in their lives. As a landscape designer, Brown’s hope is to provide a space that will encourage people to spend time outdoors and interact with nature. He believes the labyrinth will do just that for the OSU community.
“There are numerous studies on the beneficial effects that both meditation and nature have on our mental health, and the outdoor labyrinth is a space that offers both,” Brown says.
More stories like this are available for members of the OSU Alumni Association. STATE magazine is a benefit of membership in the OSU Alumni Association.
To join or update your membership go to orangeconnection.org/join or call 405-744-5368.
Watch videos about the labyrinths on OState.TV at okla.st/Campus_Labyrinth and okla.st/Botanic_Garden_Labyrinth.
Published in STATE, the official magazine of Oklahoma State University, Volume 13, Number 1, by STATE Editor Elizabeth Keys
Uploaded August 22, 2017 to STATE website: www.statemagazine.okstate.edu
View more photos of the labyrinth in the gallery: