Body, Mind, Soul
This is my personal observation, your mileage may vary. You’ll see a lot of people talk about the Camino being for your “Body, Mind, and Soul,” and there’s a lot of truth to it.
If you’re worried about the shape you need to be in to walk the Camino, this might be something you should read.
The Camino has a way (lol, pun) of making you ready for it. Gradually, gently, and with a lot of tender care. Lest you think I ascribe too much personality to a bunch of yellow arrows, you’re almost right. It’s of course you, who does all this, but the Way helps tremendously.
Let’s talk about the Camino Frances, which is the most common of first Caminos.
This is where it all starts. You spend your first day walking up a hill and over it. If you’re out of shape, this might take you a bit, but why not? You didn’t come here to run a race, you came to be on the Camino, so enjoy it. Stop as much as you want, have coffee, sit and watch the birds and the clouds, smell the grass, have fun. Don’t race.
Your second day, you’ll walk downhill. And on your third day, you’ll curse the whole idea. But once you’re past this, once you’ve overcome this slight obstacle, you’ll notice something: your body reacts. No matter how your shape was before the Camino, you’ll “just walk” more and more often. Hills are less of a challenge, distances you can comfortably walk get longer, and you’ll arrive happier every day.
Once you leave Navarre for La Rioja, you’ll enter a state where walking has become an automatism. You don’t consciously do it anymore, you “just walk.”
That’s when “Mind” happens. English has an amazing dual meaning in the phrase “Make up your mind.” On one had, it means to come to a conclusion on something. But “make up” also refers to cleaning up. “Make up your room,” for example. And this is what happens next.
With the walking settled, your mind is free to take over and wander. You’re removing cobwebs, sweeping the floor of your though palace, and clean up as much as you can.
This is, usually, when pilgrims opt to walk alone for a day, just to get the thinking going. A few great stages for this are the ones between Logroño and Burgos, which are a little longer but easy to walk and over beautiful rolling hills and along old Roman roads.
Somewhere in the Meseta, between Burgos and León, spring cleaning is over. A pilgrim I walked with in 2017 and whom I’d met in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on his first day, had told me then that he walked to get answers.
When I met him again on O Cebreiro, I asked him if he’d found his answers. He smiled and told me that, no, he had not found the answers but, “I finally have the right questions.”
After the Meseta and the Cruz de Ferro, you’ll spend a few days walking to O Cebreiro. That’s usually the time you reflect on rapidly approaching the final stages of your walk.
Once you’re in Galicia, past O Cebreiro, with your body functioning like a well oiled machine and your mind made up, your soul gets its due.
This is where, from many accounts, most of those “and then suddenly I cried” moments happen. You’ll walk beautiful eucalyptus forests and rolling hills, re-meet the pilgrims from stages past, and are, by now, no longer a Walker, you’re a Pilgrim. Your soul takes over, gives you wide berth to dream, to feel, and to reflect. Not in the logical, Mind, way, but a more gentle manner. Where the winds of cleaning rushed through you along the Mind stages, you’re now experiencing a warm summer breeze of reflection.
This is where it might get a little too logical for anyone who wants to remain committed to the spiritual explanation of the phenomenon of Body, Mind, and Soul.
The Camino is, as I said elsewhere, essentially a stroll through northern Spanish suburbia. You’re never far from comfort and commerce, never really “lost.” Everything is a short walk or a €10 cab ride away. This is not a bad thing, it makes the Camino “technically” very easy.
This ease reduces your challenges of the day to almost zero. Your only goal, every day, is to arrive somewhere, have dinner, relax, and sleep. This gives your brain insane levels of happy “I finished a task” waves.
Nothing is ever complicated, hard, or impossible. Just walk. You’re free to rest or not as you wish, free to dream or not, free to stay or go.
The initial days of Body create massive changes for the better in you. Exercise is a main agent of positive hormonal changes, many of which affect the brain just as much as your lungs. Physical exercise also leads to more oxygenation of the brain, meaning you think better, clearer, and faster. Everyone knows the brain fog after a week of couch-potato-ing, and while that’s a great thing to do every once in a while, too, the Camino is the opposite of that.
In its distance, design, and terrain, the Camino is the perfect wellness spa for all components of your being. No matter if you are religious, spiritual, or something else, this will happen. What and whom you ascribe the changes to, a deity, cosmic force, or your body’s amazing abilities, that’s up to you (and not really mutually exclusive).
Read more about the reward cascade. Seriously, you should.