Before I discovered mindfulness, I described myself as an “avid hiker.” I have always been keenly aware of the restorative power of nature, and “hiking” also served as exercise. Win, win! I have gone so far as to say that a beautiful nature trail on a sunny day (particularly in autumn) was like my “church.” It never made sense to me that people could feel closer to God in a man-made structure.
What I didn’t realize though is that during my “hikes,” the way I would take them, I was actually performing a type of mindful meditation, “mindful walking.” The difference is this. A hike is quite simply a lengthy walk in a natural environment. Mindful walking requires a far different level of attention.
The process for me is as follows… I do a sort of body scan as I move. I begin by focusing attention on my footfalls. I feel the strain in my legs as I navigate up or downhill and envision the blood pumping through my veins. I focus on my breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth and imagine the oxygen nourishing every cell. Most importantly, I focus on my senses in the outdoors. I try to take in every sound, from birds, to the wind through the trees. I focus not only on the path in front of me, but I extend my focus to the far reaches of my peripheral vision. I take in the smells of leaves, grass, and flowers.
Focusing on the experience of walking in this way really brings me into the present moment. I let go of any worry or anxiety, and if such emotions intrude, I simply acknowledge them and go back to focusing on my senses. Whenever I finish a great mindful walk, I feel both calm and invigorated due to the bonus rush of endorphin that comes with exercise.
For people new to meditation and mindfulness, a mindful walk is a great way to get started. Just remember to silence your phone!