Who knew that hiking the Camino de Santiago — a spiritual walk in Spain that starts in France and extends for 500 miles — could be a great way to not only heal the mind and soul, but also the body?
I don’t think many people who sustain a physical injury would of think of travel as the next logical step in their healing journey, but that’s just what Jennifer Bristol did.
Working in the fitness business, she struggled to regain full mobility after an injury, turning to the Camino for help.
If you’ve ever thought about taking a trip to reconnect with yourself — physically, mentally, or spiritually — or if you just want to know more about the Camino, one of the most famous hikes in the world, read on.
Hiking The Camino de Santiago For Healing [Video Replay]
Check out the replay of my Facebook Live conversation above, which also features an extended interview with additional questions about this transformative Spain travel experience.
How This Spiritual Walk In Spain Helped Jennifer Reconnect With Her Body & Self
1. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. To get started, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Jennifer Bristol, an American expat currently living in Mexico.
I’m a transformational coach, helping clients tap into their inner alchemist to ignite the magic in all aspects of life.
Additionally, I’m the publisher of Elan Vitae digital magazine — which is just launching — and I’m an artist specializing in mixed media and acrylic ink painting.
2. While many people love travel, we all get into it for different reasons. For you, it was an accident that pushed you to book a trip. Can you share more about that?
Travel has always been a pretty big part of my life; but yes, in this particular case, it was an injury that never completely resolved that prompted me to embark on this type of trip, much further outside my comfort zone.
It was several years prior to going that I had suffered a back injury — lumbar disc herniation — while hiking.
I went to all the extremes, sans surgery, to get back to optimum shape. I got to probably 90% for day-to-day life, but maybe 50% for my physical performance abilities.
I was in the fitness and wellness business at the time, so feeling that limitation in my body brought up a lot of feelings of shame, betrayal, and not being good enough. And I knew I’d have to take a big leap and make some big changes if I wanted to get back into full harmony with my body.
Suddenly it started to make sense:
If I was out on a trail with no option to get from point A to point B unless my body got me there on foot — with no responsibility other than being in the moment and making that daily trek — then my body and I would really have to work it out together; to communicate better, perform better, and work together toward this goal.
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3. For many, losing their physical strength would be a reason not to travel. What was going through your mind that made you land on travel as your next step?
Travel has been part of my tapestry from a very young age.
I was always hungry to learn about people, places, cultures, language, art, and what made people in all those places tick.
I think the difference for this trip on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is that it was all about me and my relationship with myself, my body, my purpose, my future.
And while I was surrounded by all those things I love — natural beauty, language, art, culture, cuisine — it was merely the backdrop this time around.
4. Building on my last question, you even went so far as to choose a very physically demanding trip — the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Can you tell us more about this trek and what made you choose it?
I had been interested in the Camino as a spiritual pilgrimage for some time, largely due to Shirley MacLain’s book about her experience on it.
But in the midst of everyday life, it seems crazy to figure out how to take a month out of life to go do it, so I had kept it in the back of my mind as something for down the road.
When I was at a serious crossroads with my body and my work and basically life in general, suddenly having a month away to tackle something like the Camino became more of a necessity than a whim.
It was also a type of travel I had never done before.
I had never backpacked in my life; never even really had an interest.
I’m not someone who thinks of sleeping in a refugio as a good time, but it’s just an inevitable part of the Camino experience. And it was the specific experience of the Camino that made it work for me at the time.
I don’t think a week in the South of France or lounging on a Caribbean Island could have yielded the same result for me physically.
Other than the grueling physical strength and stamina required for this trip, I had read about many healing experiences on that pilgrimage route; so part of me felt like, well, if I put myself in a position to do the work and open up to receive the healing capacity of that route, then anything can happen.
And in any time frame.
So what do I have to lose?
5. What were some of the major challenges you faced along the way?
The physical manifestation of everything I had going on in my life. It was a very real, palpable version of fears, insecurities, connection vs. loneliness, and patience. I had to meet myself and my crap full on.
Other challenges of the trip included:
- The physical strain of repetitive motion
- Figuring out where to sleep each evening
- I overpacked and packed some wrong items, and had to adjust along the way
It was also difficult to create space for myself in the midst of others. I was trying to be alone on a solo trip to Spain, but in close enough proximity to other pilgrims to feel safe.
6. What was the most rewarding aspect of the trip?
I think the after-affect.
They say you don’t really understand why you walked the Camino until after you return.
7. How did the experience change you beyond the trip itself?
In retrospect, it changed so many things.
As stated previously, they say you never really know why you walked it or what the impact was until afterward — and I would add “significantly afterward”; like, I’m still making connections to things today that were likely shifted within me, like:
- A massive clearing of my space upon return
- Acknowledging new needs and boundaries with people and relationships
- Taking a bigger picture view of my life and situation and being able to approach from that standpoint instead of being caught up in each moment and its perceived limits
- Taking the leap into a new approach to my work that more suited my needs and lifestyle, which resulted in my current coaching business that is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done
8. What advice would you give someone else looking to heal — either physically or mentally — through travel?
Choose something that is challenging, but set yourself up with some safety nets.
On this particular trip, I had gotten plenty of advice from others who had done it before, but I encountered completely different challenges, as well.
And I think that’s part of the process.
To think on your feet, use your wits and make use of your surroundings.
And ask for help.
Having new experiences on your own puts you in a place where anything is possible; to really consider who you want to be and what you want your situation to look like moving forward.
So literally just stepping out opens a path to the healing process.
9. Do you have any tips for those who want to have more transformative experiences on the road?
I think there is something magic in thinking of anywhere you go as an exchange rather than just taking in the sights or consuming the experience.
You are leaving your footprint there too and that place is different because of your experience and thoughts of it as well as your emotions while in contact with it.
Just as you are different from having experienced all the aspects of a certain place.
I think it adds a real reverence to the experience when you think of it in that way.
10. What do you think is the biggest misconception about travel?
That there is one right way to do it. Or that more is better.
Also, that you have to see everything everyone else sees with the best tour guide, or be the exact opposite of that completely doing your own thing.
Or that you should check places off your bucket list.
There is no right way.
Curate your own experiences that feel good and expand you a little bit.
Go with what speaks to you in the moment, even if it’s not a dream trip.
Spend a day in your own city and think about it as if you were just plopped down there for the day with fresh eyes, never having known it before, and see how things open up for you right in your own town. Create short adventure stories of your own through local experiences.
Have you ever considered hiking the Camino as a spiritual walk in Spain?
Any other transformative or healing experiences you’ve had on the road?
*Note: All photos above were taken by Jennifer Bristol.
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