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Calm Bites - Walking and mindfulness

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” - John Muir

When walking, there are different ways to be mindful. I will give a few examples in this post.

First, I have a question for you: when you go on a walk, are you the one who wants to reach the “goal of the walk” as fast as possible: going to the top, finishing the loop, or are you the one who stops every 100 meters to breathe the air, to look at the view, a flower or listening to the birds.

Personally, I am the second type. I enjoy reaching the top of the hill to enjoy the view from there, but I mostly want to enjoy the journey on the way, the present. The future, which is reaching the top is nice and maybe motivating, but it’s important in my opinion, to enjoy where you are when you are and not only focusing on the step in the future. I like looking at the colours, the movements of nature, the sounds of nature.

1. Benefits of walking

Exercise and nature have been shown to have benefits on our mood, stress reduction, resilience, self-esteem energy levels, cognition, immunity, memory, sleep, well-being…

Exercise leads to a release of endorphins that reduce pain, and lead to positive feelings, improve our mood ad help us regulate our stress. When we are more active, we sleep better, and better sleep impacts immunity, well-being and cognitive function (brain and nervous system).

Exposure to sunlight stimulates the body to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is important in maintaining mood balance.

2. Walking and mindfulness

When you are walking, there might be some thoughts coming and going in your mind. You can not control them. They come. When you realize that you have a thought, a judgement, you can analyse it: where is it coming from? Is it useful right now? Can I actually do anything about it?

For example, you are walking in a park, and it is more crowded than you would like. Well, there is nothing you can do about it. This is a judgement and it’s normal that thoughts come to your mind. Acknowledge the thought and move on.

Another example, if you notice that you are rushing question yourself, why are you rushing? There is no need to rush. Except if the park suddenly gets on fire, of course. Other than that, you can appreciate your surroundings one step at a time.

Of course, if this happens, there are sometimes some people that feel guilty and think they fail mindfulness because they have thoughts. There is no need to feel guilty. This is normal.

The goal of mindfulness is not to have no thoughts, is to see them coming and letting them go, without fixating on them for the entire time. Some days will be easier than others. It is like everything else, it’s about practice.

A few walking meditations, you could practice would be the following:

- When walking, you can focus your mind on your body, your foot on the path, counting the steps, one, two, three… You can focus on the movements of your legs. Sometimes that is what I do, I focus on how I walk and that I don’t put all the weight on the feet, for example.

- Then, focus on your breathing. Feel the air coming in and out. Think of this air, this CO2 breathed out being used by the trees around you, and the trees producing the oxygen you need for example.

- Then, there are two other meditations, I would like to talk about.

One that I do often, which is the Moment of Art exercise: which focus on the 5 senses. Focus on the colours, the forms, the details, the shadows, on what you hear, on what you smell, etc… You can also choose to focus on one single sense. For example, when you go on the walk today, focus on the smell, tomorrow, on the sounds.

The last meditation that I have seen is an Element meditation. During your walk, you focus on the elements: air, water, earth and fire.

  • For the fire, you can focus, on the heat, the sun, for example, the warmth on your face, if it is winter, the cool on your face and the warmth of your scarf for example. You can focus on the light. Where is the light, where are the shadows?

  • For the air, it is coming back to the breathing meditation.

  • For the earth, it is about looking at all the plants around you, their forms, details. That every plant is made of cells, as much as you.

  • For the water, you can focus on any stream, rain, think about the fact you are 60% of water and everything around you is made of water as well.

Every time, you will think about what you see, smell, touch, you will make a judgement, a thought. The goal is to notice them and moving on to the next one without them overtaken you.

All of this you can do while walking or while standing in the middle of nature in a quiet corner.

If you are walking in a town, focus on the nature in the town. See the town as being part of a larger natural surrounding, of the fact that the town is in nature and not nature being in the town: stones, trees. The town is in nature.

I hope this was useful. Contact me if you have any comments or questions.

More reading about walks: Walk, The path to a more mindful life by Sholto Radford.

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