If you walk regularly, you’re likely using that time to catch up on podcasts or enjoy some of your favorite music. Maybe you use that time to phone a friend or connect with them in-person. While these are great choices, research shows you can reap several health benefits from combining your time spent walking with a moving meditation practice.
We know being out in nature provides stress-relieving benefits. Just 20 minutes of walking through nature, whether it’s an actual forest trail or even just the grass around a soccer field at the local community center, has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety significantly. And meditation has similar benefits, though let’s be honest, while most of us know just how healthy meditation is, very few of us actually make time to do it. That’s where moving meditation comes in.
When author Mackenzie Havey wrote “Mindful Running,” she didn’t intend for her concept to be used solely for high-level runners. She recognized anyone could move with purpose and find mindfulness at the same time. “I think seated meditation can be intimidating to some people. The idea of mindful running is a nice way to introduce these skills in a more approachable way — a lot of things can be meditative, it can apply to cycling or swimming or walking,” she says. “A mindful runner is someone who works to really hone non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, whether that’s being aware of the environment and what’s going around on around them, what’s going on with their body, or what’s going on with their mind.”
Walking is a great time to practice meditation since it’s one of the few times we can be physically away and separate from distractions, says meditation teacher and Reiki practitioner Amie Young of Sanctuary in Collingwood, Ontario. “We are pretty conditioned to be distracted continuously,” she says. “Meditation can be considered a state of being rather than doing,” she adds. “It allows the distractions we come across in our daily living to settle as though they are just tiny flecks of dust, and once that settles, important stuff can become more prominent and reveal itself to us.”
Havey notes that our minds wander to the future or the past for nearly half of our time spent awake. Being able to become aware of our thought patterns can help us redirect them in a more positive way, and walking is a great time to work on that habit.
Start by engaging all of your senses on your next walk, suggests Havey. Scan your environment, scan your body and even scan your emotions. “Often we’re so disconnected we have no idea where our thinking is at,” she says.
“If you have something like a local meditation Labyrinth in a park, that can be a great way to start, but you can also just focus on your breath and how it feels as you’re walking,” says Young. “The benefits of bringing your awareness to your breath alone, whether you’re calling it meditation or not, are incredible. Think about your breath, focus on your nostrils, feel the cool air as it comes in, feel warm air as it goes out. And if you can bring your mind’s eye to that spot, you’re meditating.”
Guided meditations found on apps like Insight Timer and Oak can also help. It feels almost like listening to podcasts, but rather than being engrossed in topics around the latest in sports science, you’re able to go inward. It can make for a smooth transition between needing some auditory stimulation while walking and focusing on mindfulness. For anyone who struggles to meditate, this might be the ideal solution.
“Remember, everyone’s mindfulness experience is a little different,” says Havey. There’s no right or wrong way to do a walking meditation. But the next time you’re out for a walk, try simply focusing on your breath, becoming more aware of your body in its present state and surroundings. You’ll feel more grounded, hopefully, enjoy your walk more and return home in a more serene state.
Make progress every day while you work on fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.