Beating stress is one of the basic tenets of good health, especially emotional health.
What is one of the most simple, low-cost, and effective stress busters?
And it’s drug-free, too!
Unlike power walking that increases cardiac fitness and helps us bag those 10,000 daily steps, mindful walking (aka walking meditation) sharpens our ability to stay in the moment. It encourages us to ignore—for just a few minutes every day—the scattered worries and irritations that besiege our minds. All we need do is exist in the rhythm of our steps.
How to start mindful walking
There’s no one right way to practice mindful walking. The important thing to remember is to stay in the moment—don’t let random, stressful thoughts hijack your mind.
Aim for 10 to 30 minutes. As with most forms of meditation, the more you practice, the easier it will become and the more you’ll benefit.
A small study last year showed that two 30-minute mindful walks per week helped lift the participants’ moods.
Outdoor walks, especially in a park or other green space, enhance mindfulness even more. Another small study a few years ago showed how our brains are more meditative and less frustrated and stressed when we’re walking in a park versus along a busy sidewalk. But if weather or schedule only supports an indoor walk, that works, too.
Follow these basic steps
- Close your eyes.
- Start with a few deep belly breaths to calm your mind.
- Mentally scan your body head-to-toe, making a note of any tension or discomfort. You don’t need to do anything other than be aware.
- Open your eyes and start walking at a natural pace, your arms comfortably at your sides.
- Depending on the length of your walk, divide your “mindfulness” into the following areas, allowing a few minutes for each:
- Physical sensations: Your feet moving up and down, your arms swinging lightly, the breeze (or sun or rain) gently touching your face.
- Sounds: Listen to the sounds around you, but don’t take time to name them or be concerned if they are pleasant or not. They just are.
- Smells: Shift your attention to your sense of smell. Don’t name or judge the smells, just be aware of them.
- Sights: See what’s in your line of vision, but without letting any object distract you (unless it’s for your safety!).
- At the end of your walk, bring your attention back to the physical sensation of walking.
- Take a few deep belly breaths.
If at any time your thoughts diverge to something worrisome or you start daydreaming, gently guide them back to the moment.
More resources for mindful walking
Interested in knowing more? Check out one of these books at your local library.