Mindful Walking: How to walk your way to focus and calm
If you’re like most people these days, you’re probably well-acquainted with why and how to walk more for fitness and overall physical health. But what about mental health? In addition to the general mental health benefits of increased fitness from walking, mindful walking can help in even more specific ways, such as decreased blood pressure, better sleep, and a lower heart rate.
Is mindful walking just… walking?
To start getting the benefits of mindful walking, it’s important to recognize how it differs from the brisk walking recommended for daily exercise. The goal of mindful walking is to bring attention and focus to each step, as well as the gentle in and out of the breath. Forget about the destination. Don’t worry about how many steps you’re getting. Instead, immerse yourself in the experience of walking.
Do I need a park or a forest for mindful walking?
While it would be lovely to engage in “forest bathing,” the Japanese practice of mindful walking known as shinrin-yoku, it’s not feasible for everyone to make a habit of strolling in nature. If you don’t have easy access to nature for your walks, don’t let that stop you from trying to build a mindful walking practice. Just try to find the most peaceful route for walking, which can sometimes be attained by doing your walk just after sunrise, or in the middle of the night, if it’s safe to do so. With practice, you’ll find that you’ll be able to do mindful walking just about anywhere.
Should I be following some kind of guided meditation as I walk?
Though mindful walking is a meditative practice, it is absolutely not necessary to listen to any sort of guided meditation to get the benefits. In fact, it would be a good idea to leave your headphones at home, as well as any devices, if possible. Rather than drowning out the noise of your environment, you should be embracing it, along with everything else your senses can take in.
If you’re someone who benefits from a little structure, you can use the following framework to ground you and keep you engaged with the process. (This process may feel familiar as a common technique for reducing anxiety.)
- See: What do I see around me? Is there anything here I’ve never noticed before? How many living things do I notice around me?
- Hear: What can I hear? What sounds are coming from nearby? What is the most distant sound I can hear?
- Smell: What scents do I notice? Are these scents I normally pay attention to, or is this the first time I’ve acknowledged them?
- Feel: How does my body feel? Can I feel the air on my skin? How does each step feel as my foot hits the ground and releases into the next step?
You can either let your mind wander while loosely keeping these four areas of focus in mind, or you can develop your own structure. Perhaps you like to start and finish every walk by concentrating on what you feel in your body and around you. Or you might like to choose one focus area for each walk, such as a “Monday Sounds Walk” and a “Saturday Sights Walk.”
Fortunately, there’s no wrong way to do mindful walking, since only you know what your body and spirit need. The most important thing is to prioritize these walks and make them a regular part of your week. You can even reinforce the habit by doing a little journaling after each walk, so you can later look back and recall the peaceful moments you created for yourself. Keep at it, and soon you’ll find mindful walking to be a can’t-miss activity for your physical and mental well-being.