May is National Walking Month in the UK – a month-long awareness event celebrating the health benefits of walking.
Walking is a wonderful way to boost our physical and mental wellbeing. It’s a great form of physical exercise, boosting cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. Walking also promotes the release of our brain’s ‘feel-good’ endorphin chemicals, which stimulate relaxation and improve our mood. As a result, it’s a great way to ease anxiety and depression – especially when combined with being in nature. Studies have shown that after a one-hour walk in nature, the activity in the amygdala – the part of the brain related to processing stress and anxiety – decreases.
Walking as a mindfulness practice
Whatever environment we’re in, walking brings health gains. It helps us to release stagnancy in the mind and body and invites fresh perspectives – both physically and metaphorically. Combining movement with a relaxed focus, walking can help to shift us out of unhealthy mental patterns, bringing calm and inspiration.
We can amplify these benefits by enjoying walking as a mindfulness practice. Below is a mindful walking practice that can be done in any outdoor environment – natural or urban – at a pace that suits you.
- Begin by standing still for a moment. Observe how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally.
- Feel the contact between your feet and the ground.
- Start walking, paying attention to the rhythm of your steps and the sensation of your body in movement. Simply observe, without judging or changing anything.
- Notice the environment around you. Observe the sights, smells, colours, movements and sounds, and allow them to pass by.
- Stay attuned to your physical sensations as you are walking. Can you maintain awareness of your inner landscape as you continue to move through the outer environment?
- If thoughts arise, acknowledge them and return your attention to the walking practice.
- Walk for as long as feels comfortable for you.
- Close the practice by standing still once again. Notice how you feel after walking – has anything changed in your body, thoughts or emotions? Allow yourself to pause, observe and integrate the experience, welcoming any insights that arise.