When most people think of mindfulness, they tend to think of sitting in meditation. While this is without a doubt a great tool to include in your mindfulness practice, it is certainly not the only option.
There are times when I “catch” my mind full of a train of thoughts that has taken me out of the present moment. At times such as these, it might be difficult to stop and sit for meditation. In these moments, a mindful walk might be just the thing to help my mind come back home. This practice can really help me break free of the “chatter” that my thoughts have created and that can easily interfere with my ability to discern, think creatively and problem solve.
Mindfulness is simply our ability to become aware and pay attention to what is going on both inside and around us. With a few tweaks, your next walk can become a key piece in your mindfulness practice.
Making the conscious choice to really pay attention on your next walk, it can easily become a moving meditation. I suggest an outdoor walk whenever possible, due to the added benefits of spending time in nature. However, any walk, whether it’s moving from one floor to another within a building, walking down a city street, or going for a hike in the woods, can be an opportunity to move out of the autopilot we can so easily find ourselves in. When left to its own devices, our mind can easily return to its constant chatter, filling our brains with non-stop thinking. As a result, when we choose to take a walk or a run, it’s easy to check out or use the time to go through our to-do list. Instead, we can consciously choose to practice awareness.
Here are some simple suggestions to make your next walk a practice in mindfulness:
- Walk at a comfortable pace and keep your hands wherever they are most comfortable.
- Pay attention to each step you take, noticing the lifting of the foot and how it feels when you place it on the ground. Notice the movement of your legs, your arms, and any shifting from side to side. Really pay attention to how your body feels.
- Notice your breath. Feel the inflow and outflow of your breath. Pay attention to your belly and chest expanding when you inhale and releasing when you exhale.
- Once you feel fully present in the body, bring your senses into play. First, feel the temperature, the wind or maybe the warmth of the sun against your skin as you walk.
- Then, let your sense of vision take in your surroundings. Notice the objects around you. Really see their colors, shapes and textures – maybe flowers, plants or trees if outdoors.
- Next, for a few minutes, allow yourself to turn your attention to sounds around you. Regardless of your surroundings, just notice each sound without trying to label it or decide if it’s pleasant or unpleasant. Just let your mind become aware of them.
- Move on to your sense of smell. How does the air smell? Do you recognize any scents?
- Keep open awareness to everything around you and within you. There is nothing to fix, nothing to do, nothing to change.
- In the last moments of your walk, come back to the physical sensations, regardless of wherever else your mind found itself during your walk.
When you are ready to end your mindful walk, pause and breathe deeply. Then spend just a moment considering how you can maintain this sense of presence and extend it to the rest of your day.