Walking does a body and a mind good. Mindful walking often looks "less than" when compared to aerobic walking, but what if I told you, it may actually prove to be more helpful than it's fast paced counterpart.
When I was in Portland Oregon several years ago, I was introduced to the idea of forest bathing. It's a beautiful and peaceful practice of mindfully walking in the forest. Coming from the Colorado desert plateau, I could literally feel the moisture in the air. I could breathe in all of the new smells. I could hear the wind in the trees and feel it's freshness on my face. I could drink in all the beauty of the pines and ferns. Have you ever felt that sensation of release and restoration while out walking?
Meditative walking is a practice of restoration. Walking in nature lowers blood pressure, decreases stress hormones, and increases our feel good hormones. For some of us, we may actually benefit more from meditative walking than aerobic walking. Our fast paced, accomplishment based lifestyle often needs gentle correction, a softer space to land and heal. In a society that drives messages of perfection and productivity, we need spaces for our body and mind to unwind and heal. Meditative walking can offer that.
For some, meditative walking could simply be walking around the neighborhood slowly, using our senses to become more deeply aware of what we are experiencing. For others, we may have access to parks, forests, river trails or nearby nature preserves that allow us to be in beautiful and unique spaces while we mindfully walk.
I enjoy walking in my neighborhood. It is familiar territory and allows me to soften my mind and relax into the practice of mindful walking. Next to my home is a small grass labyrinth. This is a beautiful space for me to practice mindful walking. I slow my cadence, soften my attention, and just allow my mind to
be open and receptive.
It is often easier to practice mindfulness if you have a simple intention behind it. Whether you are walking a labyrinth, or simply walking your neighborhood, it may help to view your mindful walk in 3 phases.....walking in, pausing in the center, walking out. Here are some simple intentions that I have enjoyed using in my mindful walks:
Walk a problem or concern in, and try and quiet your mind in the center, pausing for a moment in this quietness. As you walk back out, try to be open and soft, compassionate and receptive to solutions that would help.
Walk in your gratitude, allowing it to condense around something core, pause in the center to feel the strength and depth of the gratitude, walk this back out and watch as it unfolds, getting larger and larger as that gratitude touches so many faucets of your life.
Walk in as if your feet are kissing the earth, slow your breath to match your footsteps, breathe in for 4 steps, breathe out for 6 steps. Practice gentle concentration, when your mind wonders, gently bring it back to each step, connecting to the earth, each breath connecting to the step.
However, and wherever you decide to walk, invite yourself to go slow, feel your breath, and use your senses. Happy walking!
Blessings to you, dear friends.
-Juli Larsen, CMI
Certified Mindfulness and Meditation Instructor