In 2017, I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I engaged a retired monk to take me to the temples and walk me through the daily routine of monastic life.
What transpired was a day of exploration and discovery, a highlight of which was being taught the practice of mindfulness walking. Not only did it change my definition of meditation, but it changed the way I moved about my daily life and the way I shared mindfulness with my clients.
So, what is mindfulness walking?
First, let’s explore Mindfulness, the practice of being present in the moment. It’s cultivated by bringing awareness to the senses which sounds simple enough, but our minds tend to wander, getting caught up in patterns of thinking about life. This includes worrying and ruminating – all of which increase our stress levels. Mindfulness retrains our mind to be here, now, breaking this stress cycle. Find out more about what is mindfulness here.
Mindfulness walking is the same principle with the added element of walking, which means the body is in motion, moving through space, changing the way are in contact with the ground and changing the distribution of weight through the legs and feet.
Is mindfulness walking a form of meditation?
Mindfulness walking is also known as walking meditation because just as you bring your attention to the present when practicing mindfulness as a seated meditation, the same is true with the practice of mindfulness walking. The action of walking however enhances your ability to remain present because the movement heightens the sensory experience.
In mindfulness walking, the awareness returns to the body via the sense of feel, again and again.
This part of the practice acts as an anchor, giving the mind a place to land changing the focus of our attention and our brain chemistry.
Mindfulness walking can be practiced anywhere, anytime, but what makes mindfulness walking in nature special, is the added sensory awareness of your natural surroundings.
Benefits of mindfulness walking
In Japan, they call it Shinrin yoku, or forest bathing and this mindfulness practice is not reserved for monks only. Scientifically backed, it was developed to treat burnout in overworked employees during the tech-boom of the 1980’s, and is recognised by their medical system for its therapeutic benefits.
You can find out more about the benefits to practicing mindfulness here.
For people who struggle to sit still in seated meditation, mindfulness walking offers all the enhanced benefits of sitting meditation with the benefits of walking. You don’t have to shave your head or walk barefoot to benefit from the practice.
The benefits of mindfulness walking include:
- A soothing and calming effect to the brain, created by the cross-lateral movement of the arms and the legs that creates a rhythmic motion that rocks the pelvis, spine and skull.
- Increased levels of a critical protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNFs). Increasing BDNFs, improves cognitive functioning.
- Giving the mind a break from the habitual stressful thinking patterns, reducing cortisol, and increasing serotonin.
- Resetting the parasympathetic nervous system from fight or flight, to rest & digest, improving digestion and reducing reactivity.
- Feeling grounded, steady and connected to yourself and nature.
- Improved circulation and increased release of endorphins.
- Improved ability to regulate emotions.
- The ability to slow down and savour the little things that bring meaning and depth to life.
- A heightened sense of curiosity, awe and wonder.
Over the years, I have found mindfulness walking to be extremely beneficial for individuals experiencing:
- Anxiety, including GAD
- Inner conflict
- Negative self talk
- Overly competitive
Tips for practicing mindfulness walking:
- Stay connected to your breath and feel it moving in and out of your body.
- Feel your weight in the soles of your feet and gain a connection with the ground beneath you.
- Maintain a sense of curiosity with a beginner’s mindset of knowing nothing – let go of expectations.
- As you walk, feel your heels connecting to earth each time you take a step. Feel the way the weight transitions between your feet and through the sole of your foot.
- Pause from time to time and connect to your senses. Feel the sun or breeze against your skin. Notice what you can hear? Look around and take in what you see. Is there a scent in the air, or a taste on your tongue?
- When your mind wanders, return your awareness to the soles of your feet again and again, with each and every step.
Mindfulness walking is offered in the middle weekend of each month – see the schedule here for upcoming dates.