Turn your walk into a mindful moment

Walking is a simple way to fit mindfulness meditation into your daily routine

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Walking has been practiced as a meditative technique for thousands of years, and is a great way to integrate mindfulness into your everyday life. But it’s easy to slip into a semi-conscious state, where the legs are moving but the mind is thinking about something completely different. It can sometimes feel as though we’re so busy remembering, planning, and analyzing life that we forget to experience life as it actually is, rather than how we think it should be — and that's where mindfulness comes in.

Mindfulness is being fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing. It keeps us from overreacting or becoming overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While we all naturally possess mindfulness, it’s easier to do when practiced daily.

Whenever you are aware of what you’re directly experiencing, or your state of mind, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.

Below is an exercise in walking meditation from the mindfulness experts at Headspace. It’s perfectly suited to a busy life. If you already take a daily walk, you need only direct your mind in a different way as you continue your routine.

If you live close to a park, river, or other pleasant outdoor space, try the technique in that environment too. There’ll be much less external distraction in these areas, which can change the way the exercise feels. It can also be useful to know how your mind works in contrasting environments.

Here are some tips:

1. As you begin to walk, notice how the body feels. Does it feel heavy or light? Stiff or relaxed?

2. Observe how it feels to walk without changing how you do it. It’s common to feel self-conscious but the feeling usually passes quickly.

3. Be aware of what’s going on around you. Notice cars, other people, road signals, all the other things you’d expect to see. Notice the colors and shapes, the movements, and the stillness too. There’s no need to actually think about what you’re seeing — simply to see it and acknowledge it is enough.

5. Turn your attention to sounds — what can you hear? Take a moment to be aware of them as they come and go in your field of awareness

6. Next turn your attention to smells, some of which may be pleasant and others not. Notice how the mind wants to create a story out of each of the smells, how they remind you of somewhere, something, or someone.

7. Notice physical sensations, whether it's warm sunshine, a gentle rain, or a cold wind. Feel the soles of your feet touching the ground with each step, or the weight of your arms swinging at your side.

8. Gently shift your attention to the sensation of movement in the body. Notice how the weight shifts from the right side to the left and then back again in a steady rhythm. Avoid artificially adjusting your speed. Instead, observe the way you walk and the rhythm you’ve become accustomed to.

10. There’s no need to focus so intently that you start to exclude everything around you. In fact, be open to things happening around you and, when you know the mind has wandered off, just gently bring the attention back to the movement of the body and the sensation of the soles of the feet striking the ground each time.

Give your mind a breakWhen you become more present and more aware, your mental habits will become more apparent. For example, how do you feel when your rhythm is broken by a red light, and you are forced to stand and wait? Do you feel impatient to get on with your walk? Do you find yourself jockeying for position with other people? Or do you feel a sense of relief at the opportunity of being able to rest for a few seconds?

Usually, we’re so caught up in the thoughts themselves, we hardly notice our reactions to all these things. Mindfulness is a way to bring us back to the here and now.

Mindfulness can help you reshape your relationship with mental and physical pain. It can also help you connect better. Ever find yourself staring blankly at a friend, lover, child, and you’ve no idea what they’re saying? Mindfulness helps you give them your full attention.

Mindfulness also focuses your mind and reduces the nattering, chattering voice in our head seems never to leave us alone. Isn’t it time we gave it a little break?

Source: Mindful, a mission-driven non-profit dedicated to inspiring, guiding, and connecting anyone who wants to explore mindfulness (mindful.org).

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