One reason to practice mindfulness is to simplify: Modern life is dynamic and often provides so much sensory input and distraction that it can be helpful to find some quiet and focus. Seated meditation is one obvious way to do this: Find a place to sit, close your eyes and focus on something basic and body-centered, such as the breath. At some point, though, we need to get up. How do you maintain presence in the more demanding environment of social interactions, work deadlines and the sometimes craziness of family life?
Of all the practices we teach during the Search Inside Yourself program, mindful walking is one that seems to stick the most. Many people who take the course tell me they’ve enjoyed making mindful walking a regular part of their lives. I like to think of mindful walking as a bridge practice that balances between meditation and our day-to-day lives.
In the SIY course, we often teach a classic method of walking meditation, which involves choosing a clear space to walk 10 or 15 steps, then walking slowly with awareness, focusing on the sensation of feet contacting the ground (“contact, contact, contact…”). When you reach the endpoint of your path, stop, turn around and start again.
For someone observing from the outside, this can look pretty strange, so one way to integrate walking meditation into daily life more naturally is to think of a time in your schedule during which you already walk somewhere regularly—it could be the steps to your car, walking the dog or between buildings or meeting rooms at work.
Try this: Put away your phone; give yourself permission not to think about the meeting you came from or the project that’s due; and bring your full awareness to the experience of walking. To help focus your attention, you can bring your awareness to the sensation of your feet in contact with the ground, as in the meditation above. Or you can practice a more open awareness, allowing yourself to take in the whole experience of walking—the feeling of your body moving, the temperature of the air, the world around you. Notice the people you pass, trees, sounds, the sensation of sun on your skin, whatever. You also may notice the weather of your internal environment—emotions, thoughts, impulses—coming and going.
Mindful walking can serve as a mini-reset during your workday. Try bringing awareness to walking from your desk to the bathroom or to a meeting. Some people step into a stairwell and walk mindfully up the stairs when things get overwhelming, and they need a time out. Nobody will know you’re “practicing.”
You might consider scheduling a mindful walk during a break or at lunch. I know a tech executive who commits 15 minutes of his lunch break to walk outside to a bench in a nearby park, where he sits for few minutes, bringing attention to his breath and then walks back mindfully. His schedule is crazy, and he describes his experience in joining the company as “drinking from a fire hose,” but he knows that he has that clear space to settle, reflect and recharge every day.
If you can, go outside and into nature when you walk. Researchers in Finland found that city dwellers reported significantly more stress relief when they took a walk through a park or woodland than those who strolled through a city center.
Where can you take a mindful walk during your day?
— Meg Levie, VP of Teacher Development at SIYLI