With so much going on in our lives and with the build up of frightening climate change statistics adding to our fears and stressors, adding in simple practices such as mindful walking into your working day is something we can all do, and will all benefit from.
The reason this practice is becoming so popular as a lunchtime de-stressing tool is because it helps us stay in the present and stops our minds racing off into the future or replaying the past. And whilst I’ve chosen to spend this weekend learning all about Shinrin Yoku (which is about immersing ourselves in nature in order to de-stress, heal and get back into harmony with the natural environment) we can’t always just pack off to the forest. Many of us spend much of our time in the city, which is where mindful walking comes in. It provides you with the opportunity and tools to stay present, gets you moving, helps you become more aware of your breathing (which is the ultimate tool for de-stressing) and tune into what’s going on in your body.
You can try mindful walking almost anywhere – ideally in the park – but if not, you can do it on the busiest of streets. We give you tools for this on our Street Wisdom workshop. And if you’re an active person who seldom sits still like me, combining mindfulness with movement can be particularly rewarding.
5 Benefits of Mindful Walking Outdoors
1. Reduces stress: We all know that exercise has been shown to reduce stress, but mindful walking has been shown to be a hugely powerful stress deterrent. Read this review on Science Daily in the US on the topic.
2. Improves your mood: In addition to the physiological effects of exercise—which include endorphins, higher levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain and an increase in core temperature—we also experience a sense of satisfaction at having accomplished something, especially when it’s something that’s doing us good. These feelings elevate us and that’s why it’s a brilliant thing to do at lunchtime. Instead of going back to your desk feeling gloomy or full (too much lunch), you’ll feel lighter of mind, body and soul.
3. Reduces fatigue: It seems counterintuitive, but a study at the University of Georgia found that sedentary people who regularly complain of fatigue can increase their energy levels by 20 percent and decrease their fatigue by 65 percent by engaging in regular, low intensity exercise. Incredible!
4. Strengthens willpower: Research carried out at the University of Exeter found that walking for 15 minutes decreased cravings among smokers, and a University of Virginia study found that two weeks of regular exercise induced brain changes that suppressed cravings, and reduced drug-seeking behaviour. Many studies have found that meditation has a similar effect, reshaping the brain to have greater attention, emotional regulation and self-control.
5. Connects you with your body: Because we’re now sitting down so much, many of us have lost the connection with our body that was commonplace in years gone by. Regular mindful walking provides an opportunity to feel every sensation in your body as it moves through the space where you’re walking. We take the act of walking, breathing and noticing for granted, yet when we switch our attention to these actions, we become aware of quite how miraculous it all is!
How to Take a Mindful Walk
Location: Where you head isn’t important, just set out on a route that will take at about 10 to 15 minutes to walk. If you have 30 mins or even an hour – then better still – but don’t let time be a barrier.
Before you Start : If possible, it’s best to wear something you feel comfortable in and have shoes you can easily walk in so this won’t interfere with you being relaxed. Take a few breaths before you begin walking and run a quick check-in with yourself to see how you feel – scan your body and notice what’s going on. Check your breath, too and slow this down. Is there tension anywhere? Try and ‘ground’ yourself, too i.e. feel your feet firmly planted onto the street/ground beneath you. How are you feeling now? Take these feelings into account, but don’t dwell on them, just notice them and observe as if you were a third person, looking onto yourself.
Begin Your Walk: Go slowly, be relaxed. At first you may feel conscious of yourself but let this go – no one’s looking 😉 and it will allow you to focus more easily on the experience rather than how you look. Pay attention to the sensations you feel physically, as your walk. Choose one thing, such as your breath or your pace. Can you feel any of the elements – is there any wind on your face or in your hair? Is it sunny, can you feel the warmth of the sun? What sounds can you hear? Again, don’t dwell on these, just notice them lightly and always come back to your breath. Focus for about thirty seconds to one minute on one thing. Then switch to the next focus point.
When you’ve finished walking, stop for a moment to notice your breath again and run another quick body scan. How do you feel now? Is your mind less cluttered, does your body feel less stressed?
Try this daily for say 3 days in the first week and see how things change and how much easier you begin to get into your mindful walks. Most of all, enjoy them! Smile. Smile to yourself, smile at others. It’s incredible the difference this will make to your day!