As our lives get busier and move a bit faster, it can become increasingly difficult to find the time to take care of ourselves and our well-being. We can find different reasons for why we cannot make the time, but the busier we get, the more important it is for us to consider, that a healthy mind and body, cannot function without an outlet from our day-to-day lives. Mindful walking is a small step to a healthier and more present version of ourselves, and it does not take a lot to start.
The term forest bathing, emerged in Japan in the 1980’s, when technology workers were burning out due to the tech-boom. They encouraged residents of Japan to immerse themselves in nature to reconnect with themselves and to help preserve their country’s forests. While forest bathing encourages people to walk in nature, mindful walking can be done in any space and environment so long as we are present and mindful of our surroundings. Benefits to mindful walking include, reduced stress levels, improved moods, less fatigue, strengthened willpower, as well as stronger connections to your body.
Mindful walking does not need to be a grand event. There is always a mental pressure to do something good for oneself, but in that pressure, we can always find reasons to prioritize other tasks or people before ourselves. Movement with the smallest intention makes the difference. The intention can be, wanting to feel the sun against your skin after hours spent indoors. It can be wanting to feel your ankles, knees and inner thighs open their potential for the day. It can be as simple as wanting to breathe the air that lives outside your home or workplace for a change. Small intentions like these can help us get through the hardest part, which often is just getting outside.
Unlike other forms of exercise, mindful walks do not need to be an hour long, nor do they need to be at the most beautiful park. You can find what you’re looking for in about 10-15 minutes, it can be up and down the street you live on, or on your way to meet a friend. Create a small route that makes you feel comfortable and safe.
Before you begin your walk, take a few, deep breaths. Beginning from the pit of your stomach, all the way up to the ribcage. Exhale the breath through your nose at a slow, comfortable pace. After a few breaths, take a second to notice the sensations in and around your body. Observe any tension, stiffness, looseness, or any emotions you may be feeling. Similarly, to meditation, allow yourself to feel every sensation, without the intention to focus on or analyze any of them.
Now you can begin your walk. Without the distraction of headphones, make sure that your pace is easy and comfortable. The focus of mindful walking is to experience the scenery, smells, and sensations around you. For example, is the air wet or dry? Does one of your toes feel squished against your shoe? What kind of plants or trees do you see around you? Does the sun feel warm against your skin or is it sticking to your arms and neck? Allow yourself to take in all these sensations and thoughts, one at a time, but remember not to dwell. Give them their time and let them go.
As you finish your walk, focus on your breath, and at your stopping point, take in any new or lingering sensations. What feels different? Is your heartrate steadier, or do you feel out of breath? Do your legs feel loose and ready for the rest of the day? Do you feel more energized? There is no right or wrong answer, the sensations, or thoughts you feel will vary with each walk. What is important, is that we learn how to listen to and reconnect with the body and mind that we live with each day.