During short or prolonged times of stress and anxiety, exercise and meditation practices have been found to help people maintain their mental, as well as physical, health. And while popular forms of meditation and mindfulness — like yoga or tantra — are more likely to be called upon in moments of duress, there's another form of meditation that can easily be incorporated into every-day life. Mindful walking, a simple approach to mindfulness and meditation, can help you stay in motion while focusing on your body an and the many ways it works to empower you.
As the country enters another month of the COVID-19 pandemic and all that comes with it, consider trying mindful walking to help calm your body, mind, and spirit. Here's everything you need to know about mindful walking: what it is, how to do it, and what the benefits are.
What is mindful walking?
Walking meditation is a simple approach to mindfulness that’s easy to incorporate into your daily routine. As the name suggests, walking meditation gives you the opportunity to focus on the physical experience of walking.
“Walking meditation is really an opportunity to bring a mindful presence to a moment while you’re in movement,” Diana Shimkus, a mindfulness teacher in Encinitas, California, tells Woman's Day.
“I believe that walking meditation begins from the very moment that your feet hit the floor in the morning,” she continues. “It’s a real opportunity to literally just ground [and] root ourselves in our own bodies by feeling the feet on the floor. And then in the transition from lying to sitting, and sitting to standing, and then standing to walking, we can just stay in the body, and use each lift, move, and place as an opportunity to stay in embodied presence.”
How can someone start to practice mindful walking?
A walking meditation guide created by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn says that the first step in mindful walking is finding a peaceful location where you can be purposeful in the beginning moments of your practice. This space can be indoors or outdoors, in your own backyard, in a park, or literally any other location that can facilitate a moment of enthusiastic reprieve.
Next, you’ll want to take your first actual, physical steps. Kabat-Zinn’s guide recommends taking 10 to 15 slow, deliberate steps. At the end of those steps, you should pause and breathe for however long feels comfortable. Then turn around and do it all over again.
As you’re walking, pay extra-close attention to what your body is doing and the ways in which it's doing it. Think about the lifting of your foot, moving your leg forward, placing your foot on the ground, and shifting your weight to your foot as it connects with the surface beneath you. Your arms can be clasped behind your back, or at your sides, depending on what feels most comfortable. Taking the time to think so intently and deliberately on something as simple as walking might not come naturally to you initially, so it may feel awkward or strange at first, but that's OK. If you stick with it, these moments will start to feel less cumbersome and more natural.
Now for the mental aspect: you should try and focus your mind on some of the sensations or movements that you typically don’t pay attention to, like the way your head balances on your shoulders or the way your feet make contact with the ground. Look around and observe the details of your surroundings. When you notice your mind wandering, try and bring your focus back to the physical experience you’re having as you move deliberately through the world.
Of course, there’s no one-size-fits all approach to meditation. What works for one person may not work for another. And while setting a specific time to practice mindful walking may be beneficial for some, Shimkus points out that it's not always necessary.
“We’re walking several times a day anyway,” she says. “The real work in mindful walking is not necessarily going to be taking time out of life, because we rarely have time in life. What we can do is notice that very moment from sitting to standing, just take a few breaths right there, one to three breaths, drawing the energy down into the body, down into the feet, and then staying in the body as we lift, move, and place, as we go to make lunch for the kids or answer the front door, for example.”
She also shared a mindful walking approach that she likes to use: walking in time to your natural breath. “It actually slows me down, which is a beautiful practice all of its own.”
What are the benefits of mindful walking?
There are a number of mental and physical health benefits to mindful walking. According to Shimkus, mindful walking meditation can help people get to a place where they’re happier, healthier, more connected to their bodies and their surroundings, and more compassionate. “When you activate the polyvagal system, it also helps you become more regulated against the chances of becoming ill, which is especially important now at this time," she explains.
According to Healthline, researchers have found evidence to suggest that mindful walking meditation can help reduce anxiety, improve digestion, and improve sleep quality.
Are there any apps that can help someone practice mindful walking?
The MyLife Meditation app offers a 5-minute mindful walking track, as well as longer meditations that can be useful for mindful walking practices. Another option is Headspace, which offers a guided walking exercise to help you become aware of your body's movements as you practice this form of meditation. The Calm app has a series of mindful walking meditations, ranging from five minutes to 30 minutes, so you can work on your mindfulness practice even if you're a bit short on time.
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