In the children’s book Wacky Wednesday, Dr. Seuss imagines a world where people are doing very odd things indeed, like driving a car facing backward. That’s how I felt the other day in my neighborhood. I saw one lady pushing her stroller, totally ignoring her baby while staring at her text messages. Another walked her dog, equally mesmerized by her phone and ignoring her cute pooch. A man strode by, getting in a vigorous afternoon stroll while also enjoying a thick book. Doesn’t anyone walk normally anymore?!, I wondered to myself? But I confess, I’m sometimes guilty of the same distraction-seeking behavior, listening to podcasts instead of the sound of the birds on my walks. You can get hurt if you are zoning out while ambulatory, but also, you can miss out on an opportunity for mindfulness. For this week’s Healthy Habits, let’s examine how to achieve more mindful walking.
Plan no destination. Most of the time we bolt from the car to the store, or trot from the house to the drycleaner and back. As a result, we tend to be fixated on where we are going, and getting things off the list, rather than the joy of movement. Experiment with going for a walk with absolutely no destination in mind. Where do your feet take you? What do you think this is saying about your intuition and mood today?
Focus on sensation. What does walking feel like? What kind of ground are you on? What is your personal walking rhythm? What is a natural pace for you? How does that pace change from day to day, depending on your emotions?
Get into nature. British researchers found that simply walking through a green space such as a town park for 25 minutes was enough to trigger the mind to enter a meditative-like state, reducing mental fatigue and boosting cognitive function.
Turn it into a true meditation. Mindful walking can even become more of a formal meditation practice. Jon Kabat-Zinn writes about slow, small step walking, for at least 10 minutes a day, becoming present in the moment. If the mind naturally wanders, refocus on the sensation of walking.
Walking also serves an important role in regulating blood flow to the brain, so check out the column we did on this surprising health benefit.
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- by Kathryn Drury Wagner