At the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, we believe there are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into our daily routines, both at work and our personal lives. From practicing active listening skills to meditation, mindfulness practices help us focus on the present with curiosity, kindness and acceptance. One of our favorite ways to practice mindfulness—partially because it’s ideal for anyone from novice to advanced and partially because we like to go outside—is by taking a mindful walk.
SIY participants take a mindful walk during one of our two-day programs.
Like any mindfulness practice, walking can provide an opportunity to be present—aware of your breath, the sensations in your body and your surroundings. Mindful walking is also energizing because it incorporates movement and is easy to practice because it can be done almost anytime and anywhere, alone or with other people. And if you’re an active person who seldom sits still, combining mindfulness with movement is especially rewarding.
Five Benefits for Mindful Walkers
In addition to the advantages of being outdoors, research shows that a mindful walk brings even more benefits:
2. Improves mood: In addition to the physiological effects of exercise—which include endorphins (the body’s natural opioids), higher levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain (endocannabinoids, neurotransmitters, etc.) and an increase in core temperature—we also experience a glowing sense of satisfaction at having accomplished something, especially when it’s something good for us. All of these components combine to boost our mood.
3. Lessens fatigue: It seems counterintuitive, but if you’re normally a sedentary person who feels overworked and fatigued, a low-intensity exercise, like walking, can boost your energy levels by as much as 65 percent.
4. Strengthens willpower: Researcher have found that mindfulness helps bolster willpower. So if you’re trying to quit smoking, eating sweets, drinking alcohol or anything else that requires mental fortitude, a mindful walk might help.
5. Connects you with your body: With desk jobs, automobiles, social media and televisions, many of us have lost the connection with our body that was commonplace for our ancestors. Regular movement, especially when done mindfully, provides an opportunity to feel every sensation in your body as it moves through space. When was the last time you noticed how your foot adjusts automatically to uneven ground? Or how your arms move as counterweights as you walk? We take proprioception for granted, but it’s worthy of our attention and gratitude.
How to Take a Mindful Walk
During the two-day Search Inside Yourself program, we go through the steps (pun intended!) behind mindful walking and share best practices for how to incorporate it into your life. Below are some of the tips we cover:
The destination isn’t important, so set a course that will take at least 10 to 15 minutes to walk. Whether you’re headed to the grocery store, taking a loop around your neighborhood or hitting a hiking trail, most anywhere will do. If you have time to walk longer, that’s all the better.
Before you Begin
Dress comfortably and leave your headphones behind. Take a few breaths before you begin walking and run a quick body scan. Notice how your body and mind feel. Is there tension anywhere? How does the ground feel under your feet? How’s your mood? What’s on your mind? Observe these sensations and feelings without judging them.
Take your time. Walk naturally, and set a slow pace initially so that you can focus more easily on the experience. (Walking mindfully is the epitome of “the journey is the destination.”) Pay attention to the sensations you feel physically as your walk. Choose one focal point at a time and linger there, allowing yourself to experience it fully. For example, what is your right foot doing? Is it moving differently than your left foot in any way? Can you feel a breeze against your skin or ruffling your hair? Is there sunshine warming some part of you? What sounds do you hear? Let these observations float through your mind as you walk. Don’t try to keep a mental list or analyze them.
When you’ve finished walking, stop for a moment to notice your breath again and run another quick body scan. Do you feel any different?
SIY participants discover the benefits of mindful walking in San Francisco.