Walking is my favorite form of exercise because, well, it’s easy! We all know how to do it. And better still, the benefits of walking are well-documented. Walking can improve your cardiovascular fitness, reduce your risk of heart disease, help you lose weight and improve your overall health.
Mindfulness—which is often described as the practice of paying attention to the present moment—can decrease stress, help you feel more centered, and improve your overall mood.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could combine the two? Abracadabra…welcome to Mindful Walking!
Mindful Walking is about being present in the moment and bringing awareness to your movement. Rather than focusing on how many miles you have to go or moving at a specific pace, mindful walking is about paying attention to your body and how each part of it feels as you move. Your body is made up of lots of parts—not just your torso, arms and legs. When you walk, how do you ankles, shins, knees, and upper thighs feel? How about your shoulders, upper back, lower back and your hips? You get the idea…there are more than 200 bones and about 600 muscles in your body. And they are all working together and yet, independently, to get you where you are going.
The closer you pay attention to how each part of you feels, the easier it will be for you to optimize the experience. Does moving your big toe right or left make walking feel easier or harder? Does doing so relieve the pain in your (wherever it may hurt) or does it make it worse? Your body is actively communicating with you every moment—whether you are moving or not. But the question is…are you listening?
Mindful walking also includes paying attention to your breathing. It is easy and effortless? Does it feel heavy and labored? Are your lungs filling completely with clean, fresh air or is your breathing shallow? Paying closer attention to these things will help not only your walking (or running or hiking), but it can also improve your health overall as you make small adjustments in how your body moves so that you move with more ease, with less stress, and with more joy.
Learning to be mindful during your walks takes practice, but here are five tips that can help:
- Set your intention
I know you are a super busy, high-achieving woman. You probably have a ton of things on your mind at any given moment. However, when you go out for a walk, run, hike, or whatever activity you choose, set your intention to focus on yourself and what you are doing at this particular moment. Taking a break from solving the world’s problems will not only feel good, it will re-energize you and renew your ability to focus. And that will help you be even more successful at working out whatever issue you return to after your workout.
2. Choose a peaceful route
Spending time in nature has been scientifically proven to improve your mood and reduce stress levels. Dodging traffic and other hazards, on the other hand, has the exact opposite effect.
3. Focus on one thing at a time
As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of moving parts in your body while you are active (pun intended!). It can be overwhelming to try to focus on them all. Try starting your walk by making sure your posture is in alignment and then seeing if any particular area feels tight or different than usual. Spend the walk trying to really feel what is going on in just that particular area. Focus on how adjusting your posture, cadence, or stride can help that particular area feel more relaxed.
4. Leave your headphones at home
While listening to music, an audio-book or podcast can make the time go faster, it also makes it harder to focus. Try one walk, run or hike without distractions. You do not have to ditch the headphones every day, but give it a try once in a while. You might find that you like the serenity of focusing internally rather than externally every once in a while.
5. Remember to breathe
One of the simplest ways you can center yourself and be in the moment is to remind yourself to breathe. Concentrating on the inhales, exhales and how the air moves through your body connects you with the activity and the environment in ways you might not even realize. Full, deep breaths can also help to reduce stress and improve your mood.
Once your walk is finished, take time to reflect on the positive things you gained from your workout. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for taking a self-care break during the day. Compare your mood before and after your workout and reflect on the benefits of caring for yourself. Being in tune with your body and recognizing what it needs to move with ease will help you achieve your goals each and every day!