Each year, October 10th marks World Mental Health Day – a day with the objective of raising international awareness about issues pertaining to mental health. While this year’s awareness day may have now come and gone, it is never the wrong time to discuss mental health. With this in mind, I’ve scheduled a few related posts to pop up over the remainder of October, each looking at ways we can make small but significant improvements to our own mental – and ultimately physical – health in our daily lives.
This week, I’d like to start off this short series by focusing on the art of mindful walking.
It’s important to note that you can include a bit of mindfulness in your walk whether you are alone, with a loved one, your dog, or a collection of random strangers. Your mindful meander could take place out on a wilderness trail where few others roam, within a small green space in the courtyard of a workplace building, or in your own front garden. It’s all good. Just be sure to choose whatever works for you.
When setting out to go on a mindful walk, don’t worry about covering a certain distance or about being out and about for a particular duration of time. Even in small doses, a bit of time spent away from your desk or your household chores, out and about whilst being present, will be useful.
Once you’ve settled on a place to go for your wellness wander, try your best to be present there, in the moment. This can be really challenging at times, but that’s OK. If you find that your attention keeps drifting and settling upon worries and other unhelpful thoughts, there’s no need to shut these feelings out. The point of going for a mindful walk isn’t to run away from or fully detach from your emotions but rather to be more here, now – feelings and sensations and all. When we take a step back from the usual context in which we’d encounter our stresses and worries, especially when we do this whilst surrounded by gently fascinating nature, we can often better see these things for what they really are and better deal with them.
To help you gently focus on what is around you and your place within it, try to resist listening to music as you walk, switch your mobile on to silent or turn it off for the duration of your saunter, and leave your camera at home.
Walk at a normal or slightly slower than normal pace, keeping your back relatively straight. Breathe normally.
Some folks like to focus on their breathing or their footfalls. Others like to focus more on their surroundings and their place within them. I personally like to do a bit of both of these things.
Let your senses engage with the sights, sounds, and smells of your surroundings.
Similar to something you might do when practicing grounding – a practice whereby a person experiencing intense anxiety or a panic attack would seek to bring themselves back to the present – try if you like to answer these few questions as you walk:
What are 5 things you can see?
What are 4 things you can feel?
What are 3 things you can hear?
What are 2 things you can smell?
What is 1 thing you can taste?
Again, don’t worry if you find that as you walk various other thoughts pop up. Greet them without judgement, then try to bring your attention back to where you are, what you are doing, and what you may be physically experiencing at that very moment.
For some, this may be enough to get you started with your own mindful walking practice. Others might find it beneficial to bring along a journal or notepad to write down their experience afterwards, and that’s fine too. It’s all about making positive use of the tools available to you to build yourself the most effective mindfulness practice, one that suits your needs and preferences.