Mindfulness is a meditative practice that means simply to be conscious of what you’re doing, thinking or feeling. It’s such a simple concept, but it has so many benefits!
Some of the most widely reported benefits of practicing mindfulness are:
- Lower stress levels
- Reduced worry and anxiety
- Improved concentration
- A positive boost in mood
It’s easy to get started, and mindfulness is a great alternative to traditional meditation, which can be a little tricky for beginners.
One of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness is by taking mindful walks.
Walking is something we do every day but since most of us are in autopilot 24/7, it’s never usually a “mindful” activity.
Whether we’re thinking about what we will have for dinner later, or how badly we slept last night, it’s rare that we take the time to stop and be present. To think about what we’re doing and how we’re feeling in that very moment.
I personally find mindful walks useful when I’m experiencing intense anxiety. On those days when I’m stuck in a slump, going for a mindful walk gives me something to get up and leave the house for.
It’s a great way for me to reconnect to my body and disconnect from all the chatter going on in my brain. And almost every single time, I come back home afterward feeling like I’m ready to take on the world.
If mindful walking is something you’d like to practice, I’ve written a list of some tips below that will help get you started.
A little preparation will help you get the most out of your walk and get you into the right head space.
Put on some comfortable clothes, grab your trainers and decide where you’re going to go. I personally love to walk near open water or green space if I can, but I also enjoy mindful walking in the city too!
There’s no right or wrong place to do this.
I’ve even practiced mindful walking in the office, during the small walk from my desk to the toilet. There’s always time to squeeze in mindfulness, no matter how hectic your day is!
Next, take some deep breaths and connect with your body. Breathe in for the count of 4 through your nose and out for the count of 4 through your mouth.
Feel the air going in through your nose and into your lungs. Notice your chest or abdomen rising and falling with each breath. This will help to ground you and will instantly make you feel at least a little calmer.
2. Observe How You Feel
Start walking and notice how your legs feel. Are they heavy, tired? Or does it feel good to stretch them out?
What else can you feel? Some questions to ask yourself might be:
- What does the ground feel like beneath my feet? Is it hard, rocky, squishy?
- Is my body warm or cold right now?
- Can I feel the wind on my face? Which direction is it blowing in?
- Is there any pressure or pain anywhere in my body? Are there any areas that feel extra relaxed?
- How is my breathing? Is it easy and relaxed or is it strained?
- How do my clothes feel against my skin? Are they soft, warm, scratchy?
One of the most important things to remember about mindfulness is not to judge the thoughts you have. You’re simply observing them. There are no “good” or “bad” thoughts.
Next, try to notice the pace at which you’re walking.
Is it a slow or fast pace? Has your heart rate increased or has it stayed the same?
I find that trying to keep a steady pace always helps me focus and not get caught up in my thoughts or worries.
Sometimes I even count my steps which works tremendously on the days that my mind is racing at 100 miles per hour. You’d be surprised at how many steps you can walk in just a minute or two!
3. Look Around
Another great way to practice mindfulness is by thinking of your different senses. Let’s start with sight.
What can you see around you? Notice the different colors and textures in your surroundings and observe things you might not usually notice.
If I’m walking in nature, I like to look super closely at the different leaves and flowers. I notice their intricate patterns and the multitude of colors each one has.
If I’m in the city, I like to see how many of a certain color of cars I can spot. This works well because I’m actively looking for something so my mind has no choice but to stay in the present moment.
Another thing you could practice paying attention to is the people surrounding you. Whenever I pass someone during a mindful walk, I try to note three things about them. Usually, it’s their hair color, their height and what they’re wearing.
This really helps me to be fully present around others instead of (negatively or positively) judging them.
4. Listen Up!
You can also take note of what you can hear during your walk. Some sounds to notice might be:
- Birds chirping
- Wind blowing in the trees
- Leaves crunching from under your feet
- The chatter of the people around you (try not to focus on what they’re saying, just the fact that they are talking)
- Car horns honking
Try not to react emotionally to these sounds. They are just noises that require no reaction from you. Try to just observe.
For example, rather than thinking: “that car horn is stressing me out”, try to think instead: “I can hear someone honking their car horn”.
It really helps remove that charged-up emotion from the situation.
If you do get caught up with your thoughts or emotions, just bring your attention back to the present moment as soon as you can. Even that you noticed you got distracted is mindfulness in itself.
5. Take a sniff
What can you smell around you while you walk?
When I walk in the woods, I love to notice the smell of pine coming from the trees. In the city, I usually notice the smell of lots of nice food or fresh coffee.
But if you can’t smell anything, don’t worry- just note mentally that you can’t smell anything right now.
And if you smell something bad? The same rules apply!
In fact, bad smells might give you an even better chance to be mindful and not get caught up in the emotional reaction. Remember, there’s no need for any judgment about what you’re thinking.
Once you’ve finished your walk, regardless of how long or how short it was, notice how you feel.
Do you feel calmer, happier, more relaxed? Or perhaps you found this experience stressful.
If it wasn’t enjoyable for you, think about how you can make it better next time.
Maybe you can try wearing different clothes, walking somewhere new or focusing more on your breathing.
But remember, like anything else, mindfulness meditation will get easier the more you practice it. So don’t give up!
The more you do it, the more reward you’ll get in return!