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Picture one of these scenarios for a moment: You've just gotten out of a long, draining meeting. Or, perhaps you've been doing a tedious task for what feels like hours. Or maybe you've been trying to solve a perplexing issue all morning.
Whatever it is, you realize you need a break.
Give yourself a pat on the back. Deciding to take a break isn't always as easy as we think. Sometimes we're too stubborn to see that we need a change of scenery. Sometimes we're too intent on getting something finished before allowing ourselves to give our mind a rest, even when that same rest would actually help us get our task done.
There are, of course, many ways to spend a break but, today, I want to talk about walking.
Take a step towards inner calm... and new ideas.
Going for a walk is almost magical in how it can shift our perspective, reinvigorate us, calm us down, and generate new ideas.
In fact, a walk can sometimes lead to a stroke of genius that helps us finally solve a problem that has been tormenting us.
However, that insight generally only comes after we've truly given our mind a break.
So, the question is: When you go for a walk, are you doing it in a way that allows you to reap its benefits?
When you go for a walk, are you enjoying it or are you miles away with your thoughts? Are you allowing your mind to focus on something different or are you ruminating over something that happened before you left?
I'm going to share some simple things you can do to help you enjoy and be more mindful of your walk, which will turn it into the true break you need. I'm sharing my favourite techniques, many of which have been adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Peace Is Every Step".
Engage your senses.
As you walk, notice what the ground feels like beneath your feet. What does the sun feel like on your face? What does the breeze feel like on your skin? What do you see? Observe colours and shapes. Notice flowers and leaves and structures. Notice what you hear: birds, animals, vehicles, your feet hitting the pavement. Pay attention to smells and tastes, too.
The practice of engaging your senses doesn't have to be a big deal. If you're a perfectionist, don't worry: you can't get this wrong. No one is grading you on how much or how well you observe what's around you.
Unless you're studying plant morphology, you don't have to stand next to a shrub and stare at its leaves for 10 minutes, in the interest of making sure you "take it in enough".
You also don't have to have mental commentary on what you're noticing. "Verily, I revel in the euphoric embrace of the sun's fiery gaze, as though the heavens hath conspired to cast their warmest glow upon my mortal frame!" Honestly, there's no need to channel your inner Shakespeare. (Please don't.)
Just be cool, folks, and make a point of taking in what is around you.
Whatever "noticing" means for you is perfect.
By doing this, you allow yourself to stay present with your walk, instead of being only physically on the walk but mentally back at your desk or doing whatever it was you were doing before.
There are a couple of easy ways in which you can incorporate breathwork during a walk.
At the beginning of your walk, take three deep breaths in and, each time you exhale, imagine releasing whatever it is you need to release. Maybe you need to let go of frustration, annoyance, boredom, brain fog, tiredness. Whatever it is that is plaguing you, release it as you breathe out.
You can synchronize your breathing with your steps. I don't recommend breathing in with one step and breathing out with the very next step. That rate of breathing would be much too fast and could lead to anxiety. Instead, breathe in naturally and let the inhalation span however many steps it takes to fully inhale. You can think "I'm breathing in" with each of those steps. Then, when you exhale, do the same thing: Breathe out naturally, letting the exhalation span however many steps is takes to fully exhale. You can think "I'm breathing out" with each of those steps.
By focusing on your breathing in these ways, you are getting a double hit of benefits: all the benefits of walking PLUS all the benefits of being mindful of your breath. This is another wonderful way to stay in the moment instead of being elsewhere with your thoughts.
Choose a mantra.
You can synchronize a word or phrase (a mantra) with your walking. There are many options for this and you truly can do whatever feels right for you, but let me give you a few examples to explain what I mean and get you started.
Is there an intention for how you want to spend the rest of your day? Perhaps you want to be more present, calm, happy, patient, grateful, etc. Choose one or two words. You can then mentally repeat them in conjunction with each step: Take a step, think "I am present" or even just "presence". Take another step, think "I am grateful" or "gratitude". Don't just mindlessly think the words; connect to their meaning. Repeat, continuing for as long as you'd like.
Perhaps there's a longer statement, like an affirmation or mantra that you need. Examples of affirmations include "I choose to let go of fear and embrace courage", "I am enough", "I am deserving of success", or "I believe in my abilities and in myself." Examples of mantras include "Om" or "So Ham", among many others. (Refer to my previous blog to learn about the So Ham mantra meditation.) Choose one affirmation or mantra and, as you walk, mentally say it, connecting to its meaning. Let the statement span however many steps are needed to get through it. Then repeat it.
By doing the above techniques, you remain aware of your steps but are also focused on empowering words or statements, which can help shift your mood and perspective.
These techniques requires a little imagination but are so lovely.
Picture flowers blooming in each of your footprints so that a trail of beautiful flowers follows you on your walk.
Imagine that each of your steps leaves behind a circle of light so, as you progress through your walk, you add a little more light to the world.
When one foot makes contact with the ground, picture yourself being fueled with positive energy from the Earth. With the next step, send positive energy back into the Earth, in a show of gratitude.
This practice really helps you focus on walking, while also producing a calming effect.
So, there you have it. Four options to enhance your walk. Start with one and see if you can eventually try them all. Do what feels right.
I promise you can't mess this up.
Let's say the next time you go for a walk, you decide to try one of the techniques I shared above. (Awesome!)
Don't expect the full duration of your walk to be focused 100% on that practice. If it is, great, but that's not generally how it goes. You might start off your walk and, a couple of minutes in, realize you completely forgot to incorporate the technique you wanted to try. No big deal. Add it in at that point.
Or, you might walk along for a few minutes and be totally into a technique but, all of a sudden, thoughts creep in, as they are prone to doing. Those thoughts might even take you away for several minutes. That's okay. That happens. You're human. As soon as you catch yourself thinking, acknowledge the thought then come back to focusing on your walk and whatever mindful technique you were doing. You'll probably have to bring yourself back multiple times during your walk… just like with a seated meditation where your thoughts keep jumping in to interrupt you. (You can learn more about managing your thoughts during meditation by reading the blog I posted a few weeks ago.)
In fact, walking and doing these techniques isn't just "like" meditation, it IS meditation. You might be surprised to learn that meditation doesn't always have to be done in a seated position. There are active forms of meditation, like the walking techniques I shared above!
Thank you for reading!
LORA Concepts Inc.
workplace engagement & well-being
p.s. The information, insight, and advice I share through my work is meant to exist alongside whatever else you may be doing to bolster your mental health, manage stress, or improve your well-being. Nothing I share is meant to replace directives or treatment plans provided by your doctor, therapist, or other healthcare professional.