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Mindful Walking: Stay Grounded by Walking Mindfully

Adding mindfulness to the everyday activity of walking makes for a natural combination that offers cognitive, emotional, and physical benefits above and beyond what either activity provides alone.

Because walking is such a common activity for most of us, it presents an easy way to practice mindfulness in everyday life.

Mindfulness is shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus, and provide many other benefits. When paired with physical movement, and especially when done outdoors, the benefits are even greater for your mental and physical health, from measurable improvement in mood and immune function to better cardiovascular and respiratory function.

The next time you need to get from point A to point B on foot, or are simply headed out for a stroll, try bringing mindfulness along for the walk.

What is Mindful Walking?

Mindful walking is the practice of bringing present-moment awareness to your surroundings and bodily sensations while walking.

In our daily life, we walk about regularly. Usually, it’s to get somewhere. Sometimes our walks are more intentional—we walk to exercise, when we need to clear our heads, or as a form of meditation. Whatever the reason for it, putting one foot in front of the other and moving your physical body through space is an activity you likely do a dozen or more times a day.

Yet, how aware are you while you do it? In other words, is your focus on walking—paying attention to how your body feels and what you experience along the way—or is it largely disconnected from your body and what’s going on in the environment around you?

Usually it’s the latter. So familiar is the activity of walking that we do it on autopilot, without any conscious effort. And this leaves our minds to leave the room, so to speak, and go wherever they want. We might think about our destination and what we’ll do once there. We may use the walk to replay a conversation we had, plan for dinner, daydream, or more.

Mindful walking flips the script.

Like other mindfulness practices, walking mindfully involves placing your attention on an anchor, such as a sensation, to help keep your mind in the present moment, but pairs it with movement.

And walking provides rich territory to practice mindfulness! Sensation abounds when you walk—from physical sensations, such as changes in your heart rate, the motion of your leg, or the press of your foot into the ground, to the sights, sounds, and smells you encounter along the way. Even the felt sensation of air touching skin can shift you from the fog of autopilot and make you aware of the present moment.

You can also shift your focus from one anchor to another. For example, you might start your mindful walk focusing on your breath, the steady rhythm of stepping, or how movement feels in your body, and then purposefully turn your attention to any sounds you hear or, if outdoors, how sunlight looks as it comes through the trees.

Each time your attention wanders from your chosen anchor, you gently guide it back.

Find Greater Ease

Mark Coleman

Sensory Awareness

Meditation · 10 mins

9 Benefits of Walking Mindfully

  • Strengthens your mindfulness “muscle”— the skill of being mindful that improves each time it's practiced. This effect is greater when you make mindful walking a part of your daily routine.
  • Supports mental and emotional health, including lower stress and anxiety, and can help with managing mild to moderate depression.
  • Improves mood.
  • Helps to regulate emotions and disrupt rumination.
  • As a physical activity, like mindful running, supports cardiovascular and respiratory health, increased bone and muscle strength, and weight maintenance.
  • Mindfulness can support the conditions needed for a good night’s sleep, helping both mind and body shift into a relaxed state. And walking has been shown to improve both sleep quality and duration.
  • When done outdoors, it benefits mental and physical health through exposure to sunlight and fresh air, including lower blood pressure and fatigue, and improved positive outlook.
  • Research finds that practitioners of shinrin-yoku, the Japanese concept of mindfully walking in nature, which literally means “forest bathing,” experience less stress and improved sleep quality and duration.
  • Walking in nature can promote positive emotions and even sensations of awe.
  • Can help shift your perspective to become more aware of the world around you.

When to Practice Mindful Walking

Almost any opportunity you have to walk is a chance to be mindful. You can do it for a determined amount of time or distance or more spontaneously for just a few moments here and there.

You can bring mindfulness to getting the mail, walking the dog, returning home from dropping your child at the bus stop, or taking a standing break from your desk. You could even engage in moments of mindful walking at the grocery store. The possibilities are really endless.

Even better: Commit to making mindful walking part of your daily routine.

Learn to Meditate

Melli O'Brien

Open Awareness

Meditation · 5-20 mins

How to Walk Mindfully in Daily Life

Any time we’re on foot presents an opportunity to practice mindful walking. It might be easier if you don’t have other distractions—a toddler that needs tending or a crowded sidewalk, as examples—but it’s not necessary. Mindfulness, after all, is about being able to stay present to whatever shows up in our lives.

Here's a mindful walking practice you can try any time.

Melli O'Brien

Walking

Meditation · 10 mins

Here’s how to add mindfulness to your walk:

  1. Determine how long you intend to walk mindfully. It may be for a set amount of time, or for a specific distance, such as from one side of the room to another or to the end of a city street block.
  2. Begin walking at your natural pace or a bit slower, and begin paying attention to how your body feels. Notice your feet touching the ground as you step, the steady rhythm of your legs moving, sensation in your hips—are they loose, tight?
    Notice your posture, your shoulders, and the swing of your arms. Bring your awareness to your head at the top of your spine. Simply notice these sensations in your body for as long as you like.
  3. Next, you might turn your attention to your breathing—your natural inhalation and exhalation. Does it change with movement?
  4. Now direct your awareness outward—to any sounds you hear, the temperature of the air, or through your soft gaze, colors, or shapes. You might focus on one sensation at a time, such as aroma, or take in the full measure of what you see, hear, and smell for a particular distance. You don’t need to think about any particular element that you experience. The goal is to simply take note, and then let your awareness broaden again, almost as if looking through a wide-angle lens, focusing in for a moment, and then pulling back out to the wide view.
  5. If your mind gets caught up in thinking, gently bring it back to simply noticing.
  6. Continue in this way, paying attention and bringing awareness to your body or to sensation, for your predetermined time or distance.

As you get more used to doing it, you’ll be able to engage in mindfulness spontaneously at any point along any kind of walk.

  • on your way to and from the kitchen
  • going to get a book off the bookshelf
  • walking to the printer
  • in the silent pauses when out walking with a friend

Mindful Walking vs. Walking Meditation

Mindful walking and walking meditation are certainly related: both build the skill of mindfulness and employ an anchor, like the breath, to keep your attention in the present. They both confer mental and physical health benefits and offer a counter-balance to our largely sedentary modern life.

But there are key differences between the two.

Walking mindfully can be done any time you stand up and move your body from one place to another.

  • It doesn’t require that you change your pace or the way you walk.
  • It can be done for any length of time, distance, and in most settings, whether you’re out on a hike or simply walking to the bathroom.
  • No one around you would likely notice you doing it.

Walking meditation is, by design, more calculated. Practiced in some Buddhist traditions, the goal is to bring your full awareness to each component of the normally autonomic activity of walking.

  • You walk more slowly than normal, breaking down each aspect of walking into its individual motions.
  • You follow a predetermined path that’s typically just 10-20 paces long. When you reach the end, you turn and walk back. You repeat this pattern for your entire meditation session.
  • Hands are often held clasped behind the back or in front at your navel, or hung loosely at your sides.

The beauty of mindful walking is that you can do it any time throughout your day. And every time you do, you strengthen your ability to be more aware and mindful all the time.

Live a Mindful Life

Enjoy these articles, stories, and guided practices for incorporating mindfulness into every day.

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