Slow your roll: Mindful walking for calmness
The word “mindfulness” often conjures an image of sitting cross-legged on a floor cushion. A guttural “Om” might be thrown in for good meditation measure. No movement, just breathing in and out. While this certainly qualifies as a mindfulness practice, did you know that mindfulness also includes walking?
Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about power walking to the entrance of the Coach outlet store with your AirPods buried deeply in your ears, drowning out the world around you. I’m talking about moving mindfully to connect with yourself and perhaps even Mother Nature.
What does a mindful walking practice look like? We’ll start with an outdoor practice. Once outdoors, smile as you breathe in the fresh air. Root yourself in the environment through your senses.
Feel: Hold still. Do you feel the wind on your skin?
See: Look around. What do you see?
Smell: Take a deep breath. What smells are around you?
Taste: Close your mouth. What taste do you notice?
Hear: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Thoughts: Notice your thoughts. What’s coming up for you?
Now that your senses are attuned, make your way to a stretch of uninterrupted trail or sidewalk. Stand in mountain pose, feet shoulder width apart, arms at your sides. Take three deep breaths.
With the slowest of movements, begin lifting your right leg for your first step. Notice how your core may engage, your left side works to balance you, how your hips support your leg from above. Bring your leg down. Notice your foot striking the ground. Shift your weight to your right foot and slowly complete through a full foot roll. Feel how your toes work to balance you.
Begin lifting your left leg forward, ever so slowly. Notice how your right side works to balance you, how your outer foot and toes may engage to provide steadiness. Bring your leg down. Notice your left foot striking the ground. Shift your weight to your left foot and slowly complete through a full foot roll. Feel how your whole body works in harmony to balance you.
Notice your left foot touching the ground and taking the weight from your right foot. Notice how you may be tempted to rush the movements. Try to move as slowly as you possibly can to pick up on each shift and sensation. Keep walking slowly in this fashion. Be fully present for each step. If your mind wanders, take a breath and return your focus to your step.
If you are indoors, the practice looks very similar, but with a small twist. Instead of identifying a trail or sidewalk, find a stretch of flooring as the space for your walking practice. You can use a hallway or yoga mat (one of my favorites), if you want. Once settled, root yourself in the indoor environment through the sense practice and slow-moving walking practice above.
If you choose to use a yoga mat, you will start at one end and walk slowly to the other end, take a deep breath, turn around and walk back across to the other end of the mat. This is a great option for tight spaces.
As with any mindfulness practice, a walking meditation may be calming, or it may bring up big emotions—or both. Whatever comes up, just notice it and return to your breath and next step.
Walking meditation helps me notice how I want to rush through life and its rich experiences. But by slowing down and noticing the nuanced movement of walking, I am practicing presence for one of life’s simple wonders so I can be present for its magnificent miracles.
May you walk well.