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A Labyrinth is not a Maze

The pattern in a labyrinth and the stress-free accomplishment of reaching a goal (to get to the center) provide assistance to Alzheimer's patients.

| BY Kent McDill

Labyrinths have an improper image, and now is the time to change it.

After all, May 2 is World Labyrinth Day.

Labyrinths are enjoying a resurgence as hospitals, spas, prisons and corporate offices construct them for therapeutic applications. Offering more than just a nice path upon which to walk, labyrinths are considered by some to have mystical applications.

But labyrinths are not mazes. Just ask David Gallagher, executive director of the Labyrinth Society, located in Trumansburg, N.Y.

“If you begin on a labyrinth, you will reach the end,’’ said Gallagher, who can recite the exact moment when common knowledge began to misidentify labyrinths as mazes. After all, the famed Greek Minotaur was in a maze, not a labyrinth.

A labyrinth, unlike a maze, has only one way in and one way out. It has no dead ends. Once you set upon a labyrinth, you will reach the center, and once you reach the center, you can begin your walk back.

And that is why so many establishments are building labyrinths on their grounds. The patterned nature of a labyrinth, plus the fact that one must stay on the path to get to the center, is considered therapeutic to some.

A study from 2001 quoted in a story about labyrinths in The Atlantic noted that “short-term calming, relaxation and relief from agitation and anxiety” in Alzheimer’s patients resulted in a walk through a labyrinth. Such calming techniques are now being offered in jails and prisons, where prisoners can walk the labyrinth to help them get through their day.

Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis built a labyrinth for its patients, as did the Colorado Children’s Hospital and the Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center in Clackamas, Oregon. “Walking a labyrinth can often calm people in the midst of a crisis,’’ the Colorado facility reports in its promotional pamphlet.

Several Silicon Valley technology businesses have labyrinths on their corporate campuses.

Gallagher understands the appeal, and says labyrinths enjoy hot and cold periods historically.

“It’s more than a path,’’ Gallagher said. “I think it is most appropriate to experience it as a metaphor for life. The therapeutic appeal of circumambulation is an ancient idea. There are a number of labyrinths now in parks, and at universities, and in some business settings. This is a growth phenomenon.”

About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.