Mindful walking is one of my favourite mindfulness exercises. It helps to illustrate how we can continue being mindful throughout the day. This is a great way to use exercise to keep your mental health on track.
If you’ve read the mindfulness basics handout then this is probably a bit of a repeat. Our goal for this exercise is to focus our attention on the different sensations we feel while we walk. It’s a bit less structured than some of the other exercises but the effects it has on our mental health are similar.
During the walk we will be challenged by different sights, sounds, feelings and smells. Our goal is to consciously focus on these sensations. Just like any other mindfulness exercise you’ll probably notice there are different thoughts and feelings going through your mind. This is expected, our minds are used to being busy.
Often times you may notice that your mind has wandered. That’s normal! Once you notice that you’re distracted just gently re-focus your attention on the physical sensations of walking. This is actually part of the exercise and helps to reinforce the “focussed attention” pathways in your brain.
- Take a moment to plan a walking route. This could be a walk to work or a walk through the mall. Whatever you feel most comfortable with is what I’d recommend.
- Initially, take a moment to see how you feel. Are there any strong emotions or thoughts going through your mind?
- As you start walking, notice the sensation of your feet touching the ground. Notice the way your feet touch the ground and lift up.
- As you continue to walk, take a moment to notice any sounds that might be present on your walk. Notice if your breath or footsteps make any sound.
- As you walk you may notice different smells; flowers in the spring or food in the mall. Take a moment to notice any smells.
- During this exercise you’ll likely become distracted by thoughts or feelings. Remember that this is expected and an important part of the exercise. As soon as you become distracted gently redirect your attention to the feeling of your feet touching the ground.
- At the end of your walk take a moment to see how you feel. Have the thoughts and emotions you noticed before the walk changed at all?
- Try to continue the focus that you experienced during your walk in the next activity you do, whatever that may be.
It’s pretty normal to worry about doing this exercise wrong. If you notice that your mind wanders and begins to worry about doing the exercise “correctly” that’s ok, simply note that you’ve been distracted by your worry and return your attention to the sensations you feel while you walk.
It’s important to take a moment to notice how you feel after the exercise. You may feel the same as you did before, you may feel more focussed, relaxed or even energized. That’s ok. The point of this exercise is to help us become more aware of our thoughts, feelings and body sensations in the present moment.