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Mindful Walking


by Beth Pipe

The benefits of walking are pretty much limitless: it’s good for the mind, the body and the soul.

But do we really get the most we can out of each walk?

How often have you daydreamed your way around a walk? Or been so wrapped up and preoccupied with something at work that you drift around in a bit of a daze?

Walking mindfully is simple, free and will not only help you get the maximum benefit out of each walk you do, it will ensure you see much more of the wonderful wildlife around you.

Mindfulness in walking: views across Morecambe Bay

Allow time

Step one is to make sure you have plenty of time to do your walk. It’s pretty much impossible to walk mindfully if you have to keep looking at your watch every few minutes or are worried about being on time for something else.

Walking mindfully is about allowing yourself to slow down and walk at a relaxed, unhurried, comfortable pace with your mind free to focus on what is around you, rather than worrying about what you need to be doing next. Mindful time is your time. For many of us it is a rare and indulgent space just for us, a time to escape the world around us and simply relax in the landscape.

Mindful walks in Grizedale Woods

Breathe

Obviously, you need to breathe to survive, but breathing mindfully helps to bring us into the moment.

As you begin your walk, take five long, slow, deep breaths. Breathe in for a count of four and out for five. Notice how your breathing feels — how your body moves, the feel of your clothes, the sense of the air as it races up your nose. Try to concentrate on the breathing. I always imagine that I’m breathing in cool, calm air and exhaling all my stresses and worries.

Stopping to listen and practice mindfulness on a wooden bench in the woods

If you’ve been stressed, then there’s a good chance that your muscles will have been tensed; when that happens, we often don’t breathe as deeply and because of that our blood oxygen levels drop slightly, meaning our heart rate has to go up a little to make the most of the oxygen in our system. By taking some deep breaths, we can bring our blood oxygen levels back up, which will, in turn, slow our racing heart a little and help us to feel calmer.

Use your senses

Make sure you use all five senses on your mindful walk.

See

Really look at what’s around you, and take notice of the small details you might otherwise miss — how many different patterns of tree bark can you see? Stop and look up — whether you’re in a woodland or a high street — watch the way the leaves move in the tops of the trees or notice architectural details above shop fronts.

Hear

What can you hear? Listen for the sounds of the things all around you — what’s loud and what’s quiet? What noise do your shoes make on the gravel or road beneath your feet? I especially love the sound of rain on trees, the sound of long grass hitting my boots as I walk and the ‘thunk’ of a gate as it closes behind me.

A woodland stream runs beneath trees

Smell

There are plenty of wonderful smells enjoy outdoors, and smells have a fantastic ability to take us back to a time and a place. Use smells to anchor yourself in a nice place so that you can bring it to mind at a later date. If you walk regularly, notice how the seasons all smell differently, from the fresh crisp smells of early spring to the deep earthy scent of autumn.

Touch

Run your hand over an interesting rock and notice how it feels, or gently touch the different leaves and grasses as you pass — are they hard, soft, sharp, downy, wet, dry? Also notice how your clothes feel as you walk, and how that changes if you get hot or cold.

(Obviously caution needs to be used here, so please take appropriate steps to clean your hands after touching things outdoors.)

Taste

Wild blackberries are a real treat in late summer, and spring garlic is perfect for pepping up a sandwich. If you’re at all unsure about eating things growing wild, then take a small flask and a snack with you; find yourself a nice, secluded, spot to enjoy them mindfully. There’s nothing quite like a cup of tea and a couple of digestives tucked away from the crazy world for half an hour.

(Again, caution must be used here — never eat anything growing wild unless you are 100% certain it is safe to do so.)

Practising mindfulness at Grizedale Reservoir

Be nice to yourself

Most of all, mindfulness is about acceptance and not beating yourself up. Of course your mind will wander as you walk — many of us have some of our best ideas when we’re out walking — but if you’ve drifted then so be it, take a few more deep breathes and refocus on what’s around you as you journey on, without berating yourself in the process.

By being more aware of what is around us as we walk, we are much more likely to spot wildlife lurking in the tree tops or undergrowth, and we’re much more likely to return from our walk refreshed, relaxed and re-energised.



Originally published 18/06/21




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