At the Makelight Retreat in 2016 I gave a workshop on mindfulness and part of the session focused on taking a mindful walk. Later Emily told me what an impact this exercise had on her and how she’s made it part of her everyday life. You may have heard her mention it in our Makefulness podcast conversation or recently on Instagram Stories.
So, I thought I would share with you here what a mindful walk is all about.
Any walk can become a mindful walk, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the heart of a city, on a quiet residential street or in a forest. Any amount of time you have works too, your walk can take two minutes or two hours. It’s all about where you choose to give your attention while you walk. There are occasions when you want to use that walking time to prepare for an upcoming meeting or mull over a problem from yesterday. And there are other times when being lost in your head, going over the same thoughts, or simply focusing on something that doesn’t make you feel good, isn’t helpful. This is where making your walk mindful can change your mood, help you get perspective, reduce any stress you’re feeling and enable you to enjoy your life as it is in this moment.
In a mindful walk you focus your attention on what’s going on around you, what you can see, hear, smell and touch right there and then. It gets you out of your head and into the reality of your experience right now. You’re not ruminating on a conversation you had, or the look someone gave you, or a presentation you have coming up, or all the things on your to do list. You’re in the present, experiencing this moment just as it is now.
How to take a mindful walk
- Begin by noticing how your own body feels, the clothes on your skin, how your feet hit the ground with each step, the wind, sun or even rain on your face. Are your shoulders hunched, are your arms swinging loosely by your sides? There’s no need to judge what you’re noticing or try to change it, you’re simply observing what your body can feel as you walk.
- Widen your attention to take in your surroundings. What can you see? Perhaps there are trees, bushes, flowers, shops, office buildings, people, or vehicles? If it helps to keep you focused say to yourself what you can see, the colours, shop names, vehicle types, building materials. Remember you’re not judging what you’re looking at, there’s no need to form an opinion, just notice what you can see all around you.
- Move your focus around so that you can take in as much of the scene as possible. What can you see on the ground – perhaps cracks in the pavement, a flower bed or puddles? What do you notice when you look up at the sky, the clouds and the tops of buildings?
- Choose something that interests you and focus in on it. Let’s take a shop window as an example. What’s on display? Can you recognise what’s a product and what’s a prop? Notice the different sizes, colours and textures you can see. Is the glass clean or smudged? Is the window frame freshly painted or peeling? Or perhaps you’re in a park or a green space. Choose a tree or a section of hedge. What colours and shapes are the leaves? Note the space in-between the leaves. Are there other plants mixed in with the hedge? Can you see any insects or signs of birds? What else is living in or growing on the tree?
- Now bring your awareness to your other senses. What you can you hear? Try to single out each individual sound and where it’s coming from. What can you smell?
While you’re taking the mindful walk you will feel your mind darting off in different directions, going back to your thoughts. This will happen over and over again and that’s completely normal. It’s a part of practising mindfulness – noticing your mind wandering is being mindful.
When you realise your thoughts have drifted off, don’t get annoyed with yourself, you’re not doing anything wrong. Simply notice your thoughts wandering and bring your attention back to what you were last focusing on. There are a few ways you can help return your attention to the present moment, here are a couple of ideas:
- check through your senses, noting something you can see, hear, smell and feel
- say out loud (quietly if you don’t want others to hear) what you’re noticing with each of your senses
- focus on your breath, where you feel the movement in your chest or stomach as you take a breath in and let it out
It really doesn’t matter how many times your mind wanders off and you bring it back to your focus. It’s all part of practising mindfulness and it absolutely doesn’t mean that you can’t do it or you’re doing it wrong. The more you practise this kind of mindful walk the easier it becomes to notice when your mind has wandered and to bring it back. And the amount of time you’re able to focus your attention on the present will lengthen.
You can choose whether or not you want to take photos during your mindful walk. Pausing to photograph something you’ve noticed as being particularly eye-catching, or an interesting detail, can help you stay focused on what you’re experiencing in that moment. However, watch out for moving on from taking the photo to editing it, writing a caption, posting it on social media, imagining what other people will think of your photo… This is distracting rather than contributing to your mindful walk.
I hope you enjoy taking some time to be mindful during your next walk. It can be a great way to bring you out of your head if you’re getting bogged down with overthinking and show you all that you might have missed that’s going on in your life right at this moment. If you’d like to share your experience I’d love to hear it, you can leave a comment below, tag me @gabrielletreanor in a photo on Instagram or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.