As the weather becomes nicer I have been noticing more and more people getting out for walks, especially in the late afternoon and evening hours. It's really a wonderful sight to see because walking is great for mental wellness. It offers opportunities to socialize, get some exercise, and obtain much needed vitamin D. Walking requires little by way of equipment, is free and relatively low impact so it's a great activity for just about everybody. But, did you know that walking is also an opportunity to incorporate mindfulness into your day?
Mindfulness is a meditative practice which cultivates present awareness, non-judgment, and an overall sense of calm and peace. Many of my clients describe challenges when they initially try incorporating mindfulness into their lives. They naturally become distracted which sometimes brings about judgmental thoughts and feelings of disappointment, frustration, and sadness.
When introducing mindfulness to clients for the first time, I share let them know that it is normal to become distracted when trying to quiet the mind. After all, focused attention is not something we are used to practicing in the fast-paced, multitasking world we live in. I let client's know to expect that they will become distracted and give them strategies for continuing the practice despite these distractions. For example, when unwanted thoughts arise, it can be helpful to redirect your attention to whatever it was that you were attempting to remain focused on in the present moment. A simple self-affirming statement such as, "I have become distracted and it is okay. Refocusing now" can also help to cultivate non-judgement by offering compassion and acceptance.
Over the years, I have spent a lot of time cultivating my own mindfulness practice. When I began studying mindfulness practice, I struggled with distractions and the image below helped me understand why. Now, when introducing mindfulness to my clients, I use this image to describe what it is we are trying to achieve through this practice.
When we engage in activities that are beneficial to us, such as walking, we may catch ourselves thinking about all the things we should be doing instead or a conversation we need to have that we have been avoiding. In doing so, we miss all the beauty around us and all the things we can be grateful for. We no longer enjoy our lives, rather we let our lives pass us by. We do things out of obligation rather than enjoyment.
Walking meditation is simple. The next time you decide to go for a walk take some time to focus on the following:
1. The things you can see. For example, focus on colors, shapes, sizes, of objects in your surroundings. Notice the differences in shades the shades of green as you look at the trees and bushes in your neighborhood or local park. Take note of the different shapes and sizes of leaves and flower petals.
2. The things you can hear. For example, do you hear any birds and if so can you distinguish one from another? What other sounds do you hear? Sirens, cars, children laughing?
3. The things you can smell. For example, does the air smell sweet with the scent of flowers or savory with the smell of a barbecue? Take some time to stop and literally smell the flowers.
4. The things you can touch/feel. For example, focus on the feeling of the ground under your feet and stop to touch the grass, leaves or petals of a flower. Notice if the air is warm or cool. Is there a breeze or is the sun beating down making your skin warm to the touch.
Remember that distraction is normal and should be expected, especially when first starting out. Try spending your entire walk focusing one one of the four senses listed above, alternating senses each time you set out on a mindful walk.
When you get home, continue your practice by taking a few minutes to journal about your experience and consider all the things that you are grateful for in nature.
For more inforamtion on mindfulness or to schedule an appointment, reach out to us. We'd be happy to join you on your journey to emotional wellness.