Walking with care into 2011

Ashland life coach Elizabeth Austin expects to see dozens of locals ring in the New Year by walking a labyrinth in silence.

The 12th annual Labyrinth Walk to the New Year will be held this afternoon and evening, and Saturday morning at First United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St.

"With the world the way it is, people need a place where they can just be quiet and reflect," said Austin, who is organizing the event. "This is the opposite of most New Year's celebrations."

The free event begins at 4 p.m. Friday. People can walk the labyrinth while listening to music by harpists James Excell and Elizabeth Markell, singer Constance Dean, and guitarists Rod and Andreas Galer, among others.

"The annual walk to the New Year continues because the community wants it," Austin said. "People stop me on the street through the year, expressing gratitude and wanting to be sure it will happen again."

At midnight there will be a New Year observance and at 1 a.m. Saturday the labyrinth will close for the night.

The event will continue at 9 a.m. Saturday with music by flutist Ryk Shaddix, vocal group Ancient Men, the Rogue Valley Peace Choir and guitarist and singer Tammy Marston, among others.

Actor Brandy Carson, who has performed in the Ashland New Plays Festival, at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre and with many other theaters, will offer a children's program from noon to 12:30 p.m.

"We added the children's program on New Year's Day, so the children have something to enjoy," Austin said.

The closing ceremony is at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Studies have shown that labyrinth walking helps balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain and can lower blood pressure, Austin said.

"It helps people get into a calmer state," she said. "And with all that's going on in the world, I think that's very important, especially as we enter another year."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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