When you think of meditation you probably imagine people sat cross legged or laid down on the floor. Eyes closed, tuning into internal sensations such as the breath. And this is what meditation is for the most part, but this isn’t the only way. At its essence, mindful meditation is simply about paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally (Jon Kabat-Zinn). There are no rules about staying still per se. Mindful walking is simply a moving meditation.
I’m a big fan of setting aside daily time for seated meditation but in our time poor society, this can feel difficult to achieve. When you add in the fact that we are suffering from an epidemic of inactivity in the Western World, then moving meditation begins to make more sense. In fact, the one thing that we all do every day is walk. Even if it’s just walking from the car to the office or up the stairs at home.
Mindful walking can sometimes make you think of relaxing walks in the park for half an hour at a time, and I would advocate aiming for this if you can, but sometimes it can be equally, if not more beneficial to walk mindfully for all of the short, everyday journeys you make. Walking out for lunch at work for instance or walking to the printer and back. These mini-meditations add more mindful moments of being into our day that help control stress, anxiety and overwhelm.
So why is it easy?
- We’re walking anyway
- The sensation of walking is a strong anchor for our awareness so the mind is less prone to wander
- If you are walking in a natural environment, the ‘soft fascination’ effect of your surroundings will allow your mind to focus more effortlessly
And how do you do it?
Mindful walking is really the art of noticing what is happening in the present moment. Our brains are trained to wander into the future (“what am I having for dinner tonight” or “here’s what I should have said earlier”) and the past (“I wish that hadn’t happened” or “why didn’t that work out”) and so to keep them present, we have to keep noticing what is here now. Moment by moment. Breath by breath.
In the beginning, it can help to have a ‘flow’ in mind that will help to keep your mind focused and the mental chatter down. If you have the time, you can really luxuriate in each step and spend a good while opening your senses to that aspect of your attention. If it’s just a short walk to cross a room however, you can just spend a few breaths with each stage. The important thing is just to insert a break in the mind’s time travelling and bring it back to now. Even if its just for a moment. Here’s my suggested mindful walking flow.
- Your feet
To begin with, just notice the sensation of walking in your feet. Get a sense of how the foot connects to the floor as you walk and the internal mechanisms that are powering this movement in your feet. For the first few times, you might want to walk more slowly so you can really appreciate these sensations.
- The body
Open up your awareness now to the body and be curious as to how the action of walking is felt through the body. Which muscles and parts of the body are involved? Really feel it as a full body experience. Scan through the body also for any signals it is giving you as to it’s wellbeing. You’d be surprised how many minor aches and discomforts we block out on a daily basis, but these are valuable clues as to our overall health and can provide useful information to help us make changes. Breathe with any uncomfortable sensations kindly and affectionately.
What can you see around you right now? Really explore the textures, colours and details of what you can see. If you’re outside in nature explore the beauty of the natural world. What can you notice that you would ordinarily pass by? The dew on the grass? The texture of a leaf? Try to let your attention be light and curious, not effortful and studious. If you’re indoors, explore what’s there. Perhaps the texture on the wall, the objects on someone’s desk, the way the light falls on the floor.
What noises can you hear? Perhaps natural noises such as the leaves blowing in the wind or man made noises like traffic or voices. Try not to categorise or get caught up in stories about these sounds. Just allow them to come to you and be felt.
- Other senses
What else can you feel in your immediate experience? The wind on your face, or the smell of food? Be curious about all the sensations making up your experience as you walk. Notice how this changes moment by moment as well.
- Open awareness
Towards the end of your walk, allow any focus to fall away and just be present with what is here now. Allow the sensations to come to you. If you discover you’ve spent the last few minutes caught up in thought, it doesn’t matter. The act of noticing means you are back in the present moment and you can re-establish your attention on the walk. Come back to the feet and start again to widen your field of awareness.
If you really want to feel the well being benefits of your mindful walk, then take off your shoes and go barefoot. As well as opening up a rich field of sensation to explore, barefoot walking just feels good and a new body of research is testifying to it’s benefits on body and mind.
Let’s do it!
Try to include at least one mindful walk every day. Habit is a great motivator, so if you have a regular walk you could use like your morning walk to the train station, then try to weave that into your daily routine.
You can find more tips, meditations and mindful moments in The Mindful Den Facebook group.
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