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What is a Labyrinth?

Health & Harmony

By Dr. Nancy Gahles, DC, CCH, OIM

What is a Labyrinth?

Councilman Ulrich’s office announced last week the projects that have received funding through his Participatory Budget. I am pleased to announce that my proposal for a permanent Labyrinth to be constructed on Shore Front Parkway adjacent to the Boardwalk won enough votes to be funded!

This project has been several years in the making with a solid manifestation of a temporary labyrinth adjacent to the Boardwalk on Shore Front Parkway and B. 79th St.

The construction of this temporary labyrinth was done on May 5th of last year with the cooperation of Partnerships for Parks and the volunteer manpower of Droga 5 LLC.

While trolling for votes on my proposal for the permanent labyrinth, many misconceptions arose as well as outright lack of knowledge about what a labyrinth actually is. With gratitude to all those who voted for the labyrinth and for those who will be fortunate enough to avail themselves of its benefits , here are some facts.

What is a labyrinth?

The labyrinth is a walking meditation, a path of prayer and an archetypal blueprint where psyche meets Spirit. It has only one path that leads from the outer edge in a circuitous way to the center. There are no tricks to it and no dead ends. Unlike a maze where you lose your way, the labyrinth is a spiritual tool that can help you find your way.

What are the benefits of walking the labyrinth?

Walking the labyrinth reduces stress, quiets the mind, grounds the body and opens the heart.

Walking the labyrinth is Mindfulness-Meditation. Evidence-based research supports the benefits of Mindfulness-Meditation on PTSD, functional gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS, reduced risk of suicidal thoughts in middle schoolers, blood pressure, anxiety, stress and agitation, among other emotional/physical states.

The Story Behind the Labyrinth

The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in many cultures around the world. Labyrinth designs were found on pottery, tablets and tiles that date as far back as 5000 years. Many patterns are based on spirals and circles mirrored in nature. In native American tradition, the labyrinth is identical to the Medicine Wheel and Man in the Maze. The Celts described the labyrinth as the Never Ending Circle. It is also known as the Kabala in mystical Judaism. One feature labyrinths have in common is that they have one path that winds in a circuitous way to the center.

Archetypal labyrinths come from ancient roots. The Classical Seven-Circuit Labyrinth is four to five thousand years old and is known as the Hopi Medicine Wheel and the Celtic Labyrinth. Perhaps the most well known labyrinth is the Eleven-Circuit Medieval Labyrinth replicated from Chartres Cathedral in France and placed in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco shown here.

In my opinion, archetypal labyrinths are tried and true. They transform and integrate the mind, body and spirit. Psycho-spiritual healing occurs very frequently. They were most likely created from a spiritual tradition that we cannot easily identify. The Chartres labyrinth has an invisible template behind it based on Sacred geometry, which may have originated from the School of Chartres during the 5th to the 10th century.

Labyrinths are currently being used world-wide as a way to quiet the mind, recover a balance in life, and encourage meditation, insight and self-reflection, stress reduction, and to discover innovation and celebration. They are open to all people as a non-denominational, cross-cultural blueprint for well-being. The practice of labyrinth walking integrates the body with the mind and the mind with the spirit. They can be found in medical centers, parks, churches, schools, prisons, memorial parks, spas, cathedrals and retreat centers as well as in people’s backyards.

Why do we need a labyrinth in Rockaway?

Our community has suffered several tragic events of loss and devastation beginning with 9/11, followed by the plane crash on 11/12 and then Hurricane Sandy. The levels of PTSD, anxiety, depression and a host of concomitant physical illnesses have been demonstrated to be a result of the stress from these events. Many people claim their sickness, including cancer, was caused by the stress of Sandy. Those of us in the healthcare profession know that traumatic stress induces certain diseases and DNA changes as we ruminate on these experiences. One study showed that women were dying of heart attacks at a high frequency up to 6 years after Hurricane Katrina. A Doctors of the World study here in Rockaway showed that stress and anxiety levels remained high some 4 years after Hurricane Sandy in the 11694 zip code.

Seeking a one size fits all solution to the suffering, one that transcends insurance reimbursement and belief or nonbelief in certain therapies, the labyrinth became the obvious choice. This proposal I submitted suggests the labyrinth be created from the same materials as the boardwalk. This will allow for ease of access to all abilities and mobility. Wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, canes can be used on the labyrinth. There is no fee, no moral or philosophical commitment. There are no age or height or weight requirements. One simply has to breathe and move through the circuits. Quietly and with reverence and respect for others walking the path. Emerging with a renewed sense of well-being has been the outcome for thousands of years. We need a renewed sense of well-being in Rockaway. We need a tool that builds resilience. And now, my friends, we shall have it!

Please direct any questions to me at or at

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