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How to Walk Your Way Toward Mindfulness

by Mary Beth Janssen

Enlightened Walking

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day, I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into mybest thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walkaway from it. But by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” 

—Søren Kierkegaard, philosopher, theologian, poet

What do Thich Nhat Hanh, renowned Vietnamese monk, poet and Zen Master,as well as America’s doctor, Dr. Mehmet Oz, have in common? They both toutwalking as their number one “mindfulness-in-motion” and wellness activity—and they would like to make it ours as well.

Mindful or enlightened walking is one of the greatest activities we can practice to being fully present—mind, body and soul. It’s even cause for celebration—the fact that we can ambulate on our own two legs. When we walk, we can be totally engaged, paying attention to every step, breath and sensation. The cadence of your walk and your breath can become a form of meditation that lulls and comforts you into serene repose.

Walking is a primordial exercise. It’s widely accessible, doesn’t need special equipment and brings us out into the neighborhood and nature. Try to be exquisitely present when you walk. Free your mind from distractions, and be in the moment. Wake up to the extraordinary beauty around you! Enjoy the sights, sounds and aromas. Engage all your senses. And as you expose yourself to the sun, skies and wind, take time to thank Mother Earth for all she does to nurture you.

Witness your senses awakening without the burden of thought or a running commentary in your mind. Keep your mind open, flexible and expansive. Your walk can include a state of gratitude, with lots of positive self-talk, or you can concentrate on body mechanics as you walk: the powerful swing of your arms; the way you lift your foot, swing it and place it down (heel to toe); and the way your breathing feels as your pacing changes. Remind yourself to breathe smoothly and rhythmically, and, most importantly, to relax and release any held tension in the body: Breathe deeply, belly out on the inhale, and in on the exhale. Roll your shoulders back and down, away from your ears. Be loose. Be soft. Smile, don’t grimace. Let your arms be free, swinging them from side to side.

Now visualize your body performing at its best. Think about how your vigorous, mindful walk gives your heart a great workout and a powerful boost to your cardiovascular system. It increases circulation, releases endorphins, balances hormones and thoroughly energizes you.

This kind of focus and attitude follows your intention and greatly enhances the benefits of a walk. Even if you’re lost in thought—you’ve chosen to get lost in thought (an active form of meditation that can help with problem-solving). The real challenge comes in refraining from thinking when you don’t need to think. Again, this will follow your intention. Walking meditation clearly shows the Buddhist precept, “All action is preceded by intention.”

I highly recommend Thich Nhat Hanh’s first book on this topic—Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. It’s a classic.

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