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.
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.
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.
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