If you enjoy taking walks and meditation, or maybe you could use a little more activity and relaxation in your life…why not turn your walks into mindful meditation moments?
Picture the last time you were surrounded by nature and how it made you feel. I absolutely adore long walks or hikes surrounded by the beautiful sights, sounds, smells, and textures of nature. Peaceful, relaxed, grateful, refreshed, and alive are a few words that come to mind when I think of the feelings that it evokes in me. The perfect makings of a meditative moment.
I love to walk in general, out and around my home, down neighborhood streets and park pathways, and on the beach, not only for the exercise, but the very nature of walking lends itself to graceful flowing moments of mindfulness. Maybe you’ve heard of walking meditation, but I like to mix it up and get my exercise in at the same time.
Mindfulness is something I’m really passionate about – our awareness of what is going on both inside us and around us. Mindfulness walks offer something for everyone, whether you’re an exercise enthusiast or not, walking is doable for most people. Especially after a long day of sitting at the office, sitting to meditate might be the last thing on your mind, so walking may just be the thing you need!
When we practice being present in the moment and notice different things around us, it helps us feel more connected to thoughts, feelings, and sensations in our body. Our ability to have a continuous awareness of our bodies, thoughts, and emotions is the foundation of well being and happiness, and we can gain clarity with every step we take.
As we practice we allow ourselves to open up more and approach our thoughts and feelings without judgement, which is helpful to reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus, and improve self love and confidence, and who couldn’t use more of that?
How to Turn Your Walks Into Mindful Meditative Moments
Like everything in life it’s easy to get caught up in the end destination – how long it takes to get from A to B. This comes in handy when you’re training for a marathon but for the sake of our mindful meditative movements the idea is to allow ourselves to get “lost in time” and remain free of distractions like checking our cell phone every two minutes.
So before you go on your walk make a conscious effort to let go of distractions, including your cell phone…don’t worry it will still be there when you get back, but in this moment allow yourself to connect with yourself and your surroundings, not a device. If you need to take your phone in case of an emergency set it to vibrate and place it somewhere you won’t be tempted to check it.
I’m a huge fan of the therapeutic aspect of music and love to listen to it on walks, But when I’m taking a mindfulness walk, I like to leave the music behind so I can really take in my surroundings.
Of course if you are accessible to a park, natural area, or pleasant outdoor space, it’s a good idea to walk there, since there’s less environmental distraction in these areas, but anywhere works just fine – even crowded cities. When you practice in contrasting environments it offers the benefit of learning how differently your mind works in varying places.
If you can commit to 30-45 minutes that’s where the exercise comes in, but any amount of time is good for meditation. And walking your dog is also a great opportunity for practicing mindfulness!
Getting Started: Tune Into Your Body
Try to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Before I leave my house I begin by taking a few moments to stand still and just start to become aware of how my body feels – noticing your posture, the weight of your body pressing down toward the ground, and your heels pushing into your shoes.
I like to do a few sun salutations (totally optional – see video here) while breathing deeply – it’s a nice way to stretch out your legs, connect with your center of gravity, and bring your awareness into the present moment. You can also do this outside if you’re comfortable.
Begin Your Walk: Feel
As you begin walking, start with a slightly slower than normal pace and notice how your body feels. Does it feel heavy or light, stiff or relaxed? Notice the rhythm of your feet as they make contact with the ground. Notice the swaying of your arms, your weight shifting from side to side. Without trying to change the way you’re walking, simply notice how it feels. It may feel a bit funny at first, but stay with it, the feeling will pass, and you’ll sink into a nice rhythm.
Breath naturally and fully without straining or struggling. Try to maintain a soft body and breath as you walk easily. Allow your eyes to focus softly in front of you, taking in as much periphery as comfortable. As you start to walk a little faster, notice sensations in your body like how the air feels – is it warm or cool on your skin? Is there a cool breeze, does the sun feel warm, does the rain feel refreshing, or does the snow feel cold?
Feel the hard pavement under your feet, the grass or sand between your fingers and toes, the cool water, or the unsteadiness of rocks under your feet. Continue to move with purpose, at a brisk pace.
Observe and Notice
Instead of looking straight ahead or down at your feet like we’re used to when walking, try to notice your surroundings – cars, signals, other people, animals, nature, structures, and other things around you. Notice the colors, shapes, movement, and stillness. Notice the blue sky. There’s always something new to see, even if you’re in a familiar place, you might start to notice that things have changed. Simply notice how these things come and go, how one thing is constantly being replaced by the next.
It seems obvious that we would hear sounds around us but in a world of over stimulation and noise saturation we have been accustomed to tuning things out. But as you walk, just notice the sounds all around you – the repetition of a bird chirping, the flow of traffic, sirens, nature sounds like flowing water, wind in your ears, dogs barking, and even the sound of your feet on the ground.
Whether the sounds are pleasant or unpleasant, try not to get caught up in where they are coming from, simply notice them and allow them into the field of your awareness.
Take a deep breath of fresh air and notice the smells around you. Hopefully you will experience some lovely smells like flowers in bloom, trees, fresh cut grass, salty ocean air, delicious foods, and many more, but of course you will come across some not so pleasant smells, in that case hold your breath! Just kidding, but really what we’re going for is awareness, so it’s okay to recognize and move on :) Notice how certain smells might take you back to a memory.
Thoughts and Coming Back
It’s totally human nature for the mind to wander, so as you’re walking and certain thoughts, emotions, or worries about your to-do list come up, no problem. Without judging yourself, acknowledge the thought, and gently bring your awareness back to the rhythm of your walking and the physical sensation of your feet on the ground. In essence, you’re coming back to the rising and falling sensation of the breath in seated meditation.
End Your Walk: Gratitude
When you’re done with your walk, allow yourself to come to a gentle halt. Take a moment to pause, feel the earth beneath your feet, take a few deep breaths, smile for taking this opportunity to connect with your being and your surroundings, and express gratitude for all the things you allowed yourself to be aware of on your mindfulness walk.
Practicing mindfulness helps us develop an awareness that enables us to better see our mental habits, or usual ways of thinking with clarity. The more we do this the less we become so caught up in the thoughts themselves and the more we become aware of our reactions to things.
For example, do you find yourself competing for position with other people, or staying back to be nice? Do you expect someone to move from your path, are do you always move first, or do you share the space? If your walking is stopped by a car or red light do you feel impatient, and an urge to move on quickly, or relieved to stand and rest for a few seconds? Do you feel annoyed by certain sights, sounds, and smells, or enjoy them?
Mindfulness walks are a testament that meditation isn’t only done seated but that if we are open to it, any moment can be a meditative one. Do you take mindfulness walks? What are some of your favorite ways to practice mindfulness? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!