Walking mindfully means walking with full attention. Slow, methodical movements can relieve stress, calm the body, and focus the mind. Indeed, several studies have shown that physical exercise reduces symptoms of psychological distress (Gerber & Pühse, 2009). Similarly, mindful walking has been found to reduce psychological stress symptoms and to improve quality of life (Teut et al., 2013). As we go through our day, we usually do not notice the opportunities to practice mindful walking: walking to our car, walking in the grocery store, walking while at work, etc. We have the choice to consciously take advantage of these short walking moments and become fully present in our daily lives. This tool can help us do this.
The purpose of mindful walking is to develop an awareness of each moment without having an end destination. By feeling our feet on the ground and noticing each muscle involved in each step, we begin to cultivate body awareness and focus. We walk just to walk. This practice can be performed anywhere at any time. The goal of the exercise is similar to other meditation practices that cultivate awareness of the present moment, in this case, by using the feet as an anchor for attention.
■ Before conducting the meditation, make sure you read through the process several times to familiarize yourself with it.
■ Try not to “read the script” as you perform the meditation. Instead, use the process as a guideline. Listen to your body and feel what needs to be felt.
■ Notice the pleasant and unpleasant experiences both inside and outside your body without judgment. For example, if a muscle is sore, let it be sore without thinking judgmental thoughts, such as, “My muscle should feel 100% – they shouldn’t be in pain!” Instead, you may have a thought such as, “Wow – my muscle is sore today.” The latter thought involves observation as opposed to judgment.
■ You have the opportunity to observe emotions and thoughts as they come and go. When emotion, such as boredom, becomes present. Acknowledge that it is there and let it go. When a thought comes, let it go. In this way, you are noticing without judgment.
■ When walking meditation is used as a formal practice, such as when the mind is agitated or when the body is stiff, it is advisable to practice in a relatively quiet environment. In addition, one may choose a path, approximately 15-30 feet in length, that allows one to traverse back and forth without disturbing others or being disturbed by anyone.
■ Mindful walking can also be used to increase self-focus and calmness in crowded or busy environments. For instance, when walking in a city, practicing mindful walking may help decrease attention fatigue because of an overwhelming number of external stimuli (billboards, cars, noises, etc.).
1. Start by standing in one spot, noticing how your weight is transferred from one foot to the other. Notice the slight muscle adjustments in your legs, ankles, and feet, which help balance and keep you upright.
2. Begin walking normally.
3. With each step, notice the whole stepping process: how the heel, the ball, and the toes make contact with the floor and then how it feels to lift the foot to take the next step. Focus on your feet going through this process as you walk.
4. Beyond contact with the floor, notice other sensations around your feet: possibly a sock against your skin, the warmth inside of your shoes, your toes connecting and rubbing against each other with each step, etc.
5. Relax into your walking and begin to move your attention upward from your feet to your ankles, then ankles to calves, and finally from calves to shins. As you shift your attention, stay aware of all sensations, including the temperature of your skin, how each part makes contact with clothing or air, and muscle movements with each step. As you focus your attention on each area, make a conscious choice to relax each part.
6. Now, move your attention upward from your shins to your thighs, from your thighs to hamstrings, from hamstrings to the inner groin, from your inner groin into the pelvis and finally to your right and left hip. Notice how your body moves with each step. One hip may rise while the other falls.
7. Expand upward to your stomach. What is the temperature?
8. Move upward to your chest and feel each breath as it comes in and out.
9. Notice your right and then left shoulder. Notice how each shoulder moves as you walk. Do they move with or opposite your hips? Let your arms hang and gently swing by your sides.
10. Now notice your arms, working down through the upper arms, elbows, forearms, wrists, palms of your hands, and fingers.
11. Working through the body, notice your neck. What muscles are supporting it? How is your neck positioned?
12. Begin to move your attention to your face. Relax your jaw and release any tension. Relax your eyes. How do they feel resting in their sockets? With soft eyes, focus the gaze of your attention on the skyline. Disregard any movement around you.
13. Now slow your walking pace, come to a natural stop, and simply stand. Observe how it feels to no longer be in motion. Standing upright, moving the focus of your attention back down the legs into the feet, notice how it feels to have observed yourself for this time.