Mindful Walking: At Home, In Nature and in the City

walking

Mindful walking is a wonderful practice that can really centre us in our bodies and the present moment. By becoming more familiar with the intricacies of movement, we can experience a new-found appreciation for something that we do all the time, usually without giving it much attention.

How we practice mindful walking will vary depending on where we are doing it. Here are three different ways that we can practice mindful walking in our day-to-day lives.

Walking Meditation At Home

The easiest place to start practicing mindful walking is in our own home. In the privacy of our own space, we can take the time to really slow down, creating a more intimate connection with how our bodies work and move, away from noise, other people, etc.

Start off by finding a clear space to walk around in. It doesn’t have to be a big space; just enough room to take a few mindful steps back and forth will do.

Before taking the first step, close your eyes for a moment and focus on the breath, gently trying to let go of any worries or thoughts. If it’s helpful, you can imagine your thoughts melting away through the breath, letting them leave the body as you exhale.

Opening your eyes, you can then begin with the first step. Lift your leg as you normally would, only slowing the movement right down, so that you become aware of how the leg feels as it lifts the foot away from the ground. As you step forward, bring awareness to how the hips, thighs, knees and calves all work together, on both sides of the body. As the foot reconnects with the floor, notice how the toes, the ball of the foot, and the heel feels as they individually make contact with the carpet or tiles.

Is the ground warm or cool? Soft or hard? If the mind wanders, simply bring it back to the movement of the leg or foot and notice the different qualities of the process. Try walking up and down for a while in this way, remembering to breathe, and gently re-focussing the mind when it drifts onto other things. Does the practice change your mood? How does it feel in the body to slow down in this way? Whatever experiences or sensations arise, try to be open to them, noticing them with a sense of curiosity, in the same way as when we are doing a seated meditation.

Mindful Walking In Nature

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Thích Nhất Hạnh

When we’re in the countryside or at the beach we can not only practice becoming aware of our individual bodies, but we can also start to see ourselves as one small part of a bigger picture. Our body takes its place as one instrument in nature’s orchestra of wildlife, swaying trees, breezes, flowing rivers or waves on the sea. Seeing ourselves as a valid and equal part of life in this way can be very healing, and can offer us opportunities to cultivate gratitude and self-compassion.

To build on our mindful walking practice, we can expand our awareness to how our footsteps or presence affects our immediate surroundings, and reversely how our surroundings affect us. For example, if we are walking on grass or sand, we can notice how our foot sinks into it, flattening it, perhaps leaving an indentation behind us. We might not feel comfortable walking quite as slowly as we do at home, but this is okay. However quickly or slowly we walk, there is always the opportunity to bring awareness into it. And if we need to duck under branches or jump across streams along the way, we can also do this mindfully, noticing and enjoying the different movements of the body.

Resisting the City Rush

It’s one thing to walk mindfully at home or in the tranquillity of nature, but staying mindful in a city or town can be challenging. With so much noise and activity all around us, it’s hard not to get swept away by the rush. This is especially true when we’re walking along routine routes, for example walking to or from work. We’re sometimes so focused on our destination that we completely switch off for the journey. However, even in the hustle and bustle of city life, we can still add some mindfulness to our steps.

If we want to walk more mindfully in such a busy environment, it’s important to centre ourselves. Using the breath as an anchor can help us feel grounded in the midst of sensory overload. By taking some deep, conscious breaths we can take a step back from our thoughts about everything that’s going on around us, and we can find a place of inner strength and calm.

We can then set the intention to notice more about our movement, starting a similar process as the walking meditation, only not as slowly. We’re bound to find our minds wandering frequently in the city, but again, each time we notice this we can gently return our attention to the breath, and to our steps.

Why not experiment with kissing the pavement, the underground escalators and the Tube train floors with your feet, and see how it changes your journey?

Would you like to learn more about how mindfulness in nature? Check out our upcoming Mindfulness and Nature Connection workshop here.

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