I used to think mindful walking meant “watching” your step. Like, the delicate art of dodging sneaky fixed-light poles, jumping over Grand Canyon size pot holes, avoiding embarrassing trips over large cracks in the sidewalk, and trying not to invade personal space bubbles of others walking around you, including getting tangled up with animal friends on long leashes. Makes sense, right? Walking in general, kind of requires some level of mindfulness. How much more mindful should we be?
Well…walking mindfully, is so much more than just watching your step and being aware of your surroundings (calm down secret Ninja). Mindful walking is enjoying your surroundings, feeling the moment, and engaging in all your senses. Although it sounds complicated, like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time, I assure you, it’s actually very easy.
Walking Like A Zombie
We don’t have to actively think about moving our feet to walk, (left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot), we kind of just do it automatically. Sometimes to the point, we can end up at the refrigerator without even realizing it, browsing mindlessly into an open refrigerator not even sure if we have a hungry tummy. Our feet take us on all sorts of trips, but rarely do we remember any part of the trip. Seriously, walking in the parking lot from your car to the grocery store; do you ever remember specifics to your surroundings?
When our bodies are in this normal automatic (zombie) mode, our Fight or Flight Response System is directing our senses, not us, mostly because we are too busy thinking about other things. I know while I am walking to the grocery store from my car, the only thing on my mind is a shopping list. This is why we rarely remember any specifics from point A to point B, such as how many people were in the parking lot, particular smells, the color of parked cars, a penny on the ground, or any trees or flowers in the parking lot; well, unless you parked next to a tree, then of course, you have to remember that tree.
My point is, we do see all of these things, but we rarely pay attention to any of it, unless it sparks an interest, like a unique rainbow colored car with unicorn horns or things that pose a danger to us, like a vehicle backing out of a parking space in front of us or the smell of gasoline. We are semi-aware of our surroundings; but our Fight or Flight Response System is doing majority of the work when we don’t walk mindfully, because its mission is to keep us safe while our mind focuses on other things (like a shopping list).
Mindful Walking 101
The next time you go for a walk, even a short trip to the refrigerator, try to practice mindful walking.
To start, you have to get your feet moving in a desired direction, then once you are on your way, bring full-attention to your body then extend your senses outward to the world. Taking in each moment of every step as you walk from point A to point B. Bringing your full attention to one simple task, such as walking, is extremely calming and sometimes enlightening.
Focusing On The Breath
On longer walks, like a good exercise around the block, always start with your breath. Focus on your breath by paying close attention to its sound; notice your chest moving in and out as your breathe. Can you feel your muscles working? Once you get a good, calm, breathing rhythm, move your attention to your feet.
Feet to Head Mental Scan
As you walk, you want to take notice to how your feet feel against the ground. Are you a light stepper or a heavy stepper? Are you walking fast or slow? Try to notice the heel -toe movement in walking. Can you feel any muscles working?
After your feet, pay full-attention to each body area, working your way up to your head. Move upward from your feet to your thighs, then to your hips (do they sway side to side as your walk, mine do). Then focus on your back, how is your posture as you walk? Wiggle your arms and fingers, focus on the sensations there. Finally, move up to your head where you will begin to extend your senses outward.
Using Senses To Discover A New World
When you engage in all your senses while walking, the world around you becomes more vivid, clearer, and sometimes even more beautiful. That is because you begin to notice things you never noticed before.
Try to bring your full attention to each of your senses.
- What do you smell? Is it good or bad? Does it spark any memories?
- What do you see? Look for flowers and trees. Pay attention to building architecture. Notice textures and colors.
- What do you hear? Birds chirping? Dogs barking? Kids screaming? Construction? How does it make you feel?
- Focus on taste. Morning coffee? Toothpaste? Unique unpleasant after-taste? Is it slightly raining? No shame in taking a taste of rain like a kid, enjoy it!
- Focus on touch. Touch everything, but be mindful of boundaries. Touch flowers, dirt, the bricks of a house. What does it feel like? Take your shoes off while walking along a beach (avoid rocks).
The point is to activate all your senses while still being mindful of your surroundings to remain safe from danger. You can enjoy your walk so much more, by taking in every moment of your journey. This is truly the art of being mindful.
Gratitude Is The Result Of Being Mindful
Focusing on your breath and doing a toe to head body scan brings your body to a state of relaxation. However, engaging all your senses can bring a sense of gratitude. As you focus on your senses, you begin to appreciate all the new discoveries. Gratitude often leads to happiness and happiness is always a good thing. 🙂
What are your thoughts on mindful walking?