Practicing Mindful Walking

Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash

I want to move my mindfulness practice into more of my daily life. I am aware of wanting to be mindful while I walk, but that doesn’t mean that I’m practicing mindfulness at the time. I pay more attention to what’s going on in my environment or what’s going on inside my head. It seems so much easier to be mindful when I’m sitting still in a chair and concentrating on my breaths. Adding movement to the process (whether it’s my own movement or animals around me) breaks my concentration. I want to make an effort to practice mindfulness while walking.  

Before I get into the specifics, I want to state that as a Master Naturalist, there are times that I am fully engaged with the flora and fauna I encounter. That is part of what I love about being a Master Naturalist. During those times I may stop and sit and document (by nature journaling) what is going on around me. There are other times when I use walking as part of my creative thinking process. I am inside my head and notice only obvious sights or sounds around me. At other times walking is a part of my exercise routine and I walk fast and don’t notice much other than my heart rate.But as a spiritual naturalist, I feel I should devote a portion of my walking time to the more focused side of being mindful.

Mindful walking, also known as walking meditation, is a mindfulness practice that involves bringing focused attention to the physical act of walking and the sensations it creates in your body. The goal is to develop a heightened awareness of the present moment by fully experiencing and appreciating the process of walking, without judgment or distraction.

The Elements of Mindful Walking
According to Hugh O’Donovan in his book on Mindful Walking, the key elements of mindful walking are:

  1. Setting an intention: Before starting your walk, set an intention for your practice, such as being fully present or cultivating gratitude for your surroundings.
  2. Paying attention to your body: As you walk, focus on the physical sensations of your body, such as the feeling of your feet touching the ground, the movement and rhythm of your legs, and the sensation of your breath as you inhale and exhale. By staying connected to these sensations, you anchor your attention in the present moment.
  3. Observing your surroundings: Mindful walking also involves becoming aware of the environment around you. Notice the sights, sounds, and smells you encounter as you walk, observing them without judgment or attachment. This helps to cultivate a sense of curiosity and openness to the world around you. The difference here (for me) is that you notice how your surroundings are affecting you. You are a participant rather than an observer.
  4. Maintaining a relaxed and natural pace: Walk at a comfortable, natural pace, allowing your body to find its own rhythm. It’s essential to strike a balance between being overly focused on your steps and losing yourself in the experience of walking. You can experiment with different walking speeds to find what works best for you.
  5. Returning to your focus: Your mind may wander during mindful walking, as it does during any meditation practice. When you notice your thoughts drifting, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of walking or your breath, without judgment or frustration.

Mindful walking can be practiced in various settings, such as nature trails, parks, or even neighborhoods. The key is to remain present and aware of your body, breath, and surroundings, regardless of the external environment.

O’Donovan also explores the psychological advantages of combining mindfulness with walking.  Some benefits of mindful walking include:

– Reduced stress and anxiety
– Improved mental focus and clarity
– Enhanced emotional well-being
– Increased physical activity and associated health benefits
– A deeper sense of connection with yourself and the world around you

Mindful walking is an accessible and versatile mindfulness practice that can be easily integrated into your daily walking routine, providing an opportunity to cultivate presence and self-awareness.

Practicing a Walking Meditation
One popular walking meditation technique is the “Four-Part Walking Meditation.” This technique focuses on synchronizing your breath with your steps, allowing you to cultivate mindfulness and awareness of the present moment. 

  1. Find a quiet, safe place to walk: Choose a location where you can walk without distractions or potential hazards. This could be a quiet park, a path in a garden, or even a spacious room in your home.
  2. Stand tall and take a few deep breaths: Begin by standing upright with your feet about hip-width apart. Take a few deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Focus on your breath to bring your awareness to the present moment.
  3. Start walking slowly and synchronize your breath with your steps: Begin walking at a slow, comfortable pace. As you walk, synchronize your breath with your steps. For example, inhale for four steps and exhale for four steps. Adjust the number of steps per breath to your comfort level.
  4. Four-Part Walking Meditation:
    Part 1 – Focus on your feet: For the first part of your walking meditation, direct your attention to the sensations in your feet as they make contact with the ground. Notice the heel touching down, the spreading of the foot, and the toes pushing off.
    Part 2 – Expand awareness to your legs: Gradually expand your awareness to include the sensations in your legs as they move through space. Feel the muscles contracting and releasing, and the joints bending and extending.
    Part 3 – Notice your whole body moving: Widen your focus further to encompass your entire body as it moves through space. Observe how your arms swing, your torso rotates, and your head stays balanced atop your spine.
    Part 4 – Connect with your surroundings: Finally, extend your awareness to your surroundings. Notice the sights, smells, sounds, and textures around you. Stay present and maintain your connection with your breath and your steps.
    Part 5 – Conclude your walking meditation: After a predetermined duration or distance, come to a stop. Take a few deep breaths, feeling gratitude for the experience. Gently transition back to your regular activities, carrying the mindfulness and awareness cultivated during your walking meditation with you.

This meditation is simple enough that I can remember it while I am walking. I make it a practice to leave my phone at home when I am going to do a mindful walk. (I do have an Apple Watch for emergencies.  I put it in silent mode.) I am amazed at how quiet it is in nature sometimes. Those are the times that I don’t have a lot of distractions and I can best engage with how my body feels.

Just as with any mindfulness practice, I know that my mindful walks will always be a work in progress, but I am happy to add movement to my regular mindfulness routine. I’ve noticed that I am more in tune with how my body feels during those walks, but I also return home feeling more a part of the natural world around me, rather than just an observer.

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Learn about Membership in the Spiritual Naturalist Society

The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.

SNS strives to include diverse voices within the spectrum of naturalistic spirituality. Authors will vary in their opinions, terms, and outlook. The views of no single author therefore necessarily reflect those of all Spiritual Naturalists or of SNS.
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References

Books:

Mindful Walking: Walk Your Way to Mental and Physical Well-Being by O’Donovan, Hugh
A Field Guide to Nature Meditation: 52 Mindfulness Practices for Joy, Wisdom and Wonder by Coleman, Mark

Online Articles:

A Guided Walking Meditation to Connect with Your Senses
6 Ways to Enjoy Mindful Walking 

 

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