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How to Practice Mindful Walking

May 13, 2021

By the Duke Health & Well-Being Programs Team

Mindfulness is an ability that can be practiced at any point in our day, either in stillness or in movement. Sitting still to meditate can be challenging for many of us, especially with long days of commuting and sitting at work. Though generally performed with the primary purpose of getting from one place to another, walking is so intrinsic to our lives that it makes for a natural and easily accessible focus for meditation and mindful awareness. Mindful walking, or walking meditation, is a way to bring awareness to our bodies and tune into the sensations that arise while in motion. It allows us to practice movement without a goal or intention and fully appreciate the external world’s impact on our inner experience.

It encourages us to let go of the urge to overthink by using our breath to help ground us and connect to our external world with curiosity, open hearts, and open minds. Mindful walking provides an opportunity to meditate during the spaces in our life as we walk to our car in the morning, from our cars to work, down the halls between meetings, or as we leave the supermarket. It can also be a more formal practice in a park, along the beach, in the woods, or in a labyrinth. In creating a mindful walking practice, we can become more aware of things outside ourselves – the wind or sun on our body, the sounds of nature, and other humans and machines in our external environments.

Mindfulness is an ability that can be practiced at any point in our day, either in stillness or in movement.

IMPACT and SUPPORT

Mindful walking can be a powerful tool for self-healing by reducing stress and elevating mood,37-39, and increasing focus and attention. When practiced outdoors in nature, there are even greater benefits. Forest bathing or forest therapy involves walking and spending time in nature and has been scientifically proven to boost immune system function, reduce blood pressure and stress, improve mood, increase focus, accelerate healing, increase energy level and improve sleep.40-42 Since walking involves body movement, the regular practice also creates a healthy habit of regular gentle exercise that supports the physical benefits of an active lifestyle.

PRACTICE CONSIDERATIONS

Mindful walking can take place anywhere your feet will take you. It is accessible to those who use a wheelchair, as well. Remember to pay attention to street lights, traffic, and other people when practicing on sidewalks and along streets. When off the grid in the woods or in parks, be aware of variations in the ground level, tree roots, branches, and other people. If there are not easily accessible outdoor spaces, mindful walking can be practiced indoors by walking in a circle or straight line.

HOW TO DO A MINDFUL WALK

  • Begin by standing straight with your back in an upright but not stiff position. Feeling your feet on the ground, center yourself and let your weight distribute evenly. You can either clasp your hands behind your back or in front of you or let them hang at your side —whatever feels most comfortable and natural for you.
  • Drop your gaze slightly, with eyes softly fixed on the ground about 8 feet ahead of you. Step out with your left foot, feeling it swing forward as you gently graze the ground with your foot. Feel the sensation as you place weight on your heel and shift forward by placing weight on the ball of your foot. Next, step out with your right foot, feeling it swing forward as you gently graze the ground, shifting weight from the heel to the ball of your foot as you move forward. Notice your back foot slowly rise and begin its step forward as the front completes each of its own.
  • Continue walking on a single path at a steady, slow pace that feels comfortable to you. Let yourself walk with ease and grace in a natural way, not forced or exaggerated. Left foot… right foot… left foot… right foot. Allow your attention to become present at the moment. Simply focus on your movement without trying to control it. You are not walking to get anyplace. You are not going anywhere, particularly making it easier to be where you are. You may try varying your speed to discover a pace that keeps you the most present.
  • When you reach the end of your path, pause for a moment. Then re-center yourself, turn, and again pause before taking your next step. Be fully present with every step and every breath. Appreciate the solid ground beneath you, feeling the sensations of your movement – in your feet, legs, posture, and gait.
  • Notice your breath coming in and out of your body. Moment to moment. Step by step. If thoughts, sounds or other distractions arise for you that pull your attention away from the experience of walking, acknowledge them and then let them go by refocusing on the sensations of your movement. You will now complete this practice by coming to a natural stop.
  • Bring attention to how it feels to just be standing, no longer in motion. Feeling once again your feet on the ground with weight traveling down through your legs, through your feet, into the earth. Experiencing yourself standing and just being as you bring your practice to a close.

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