During the day many of us are moving so fast – both mentally and physically. Our neurons are firing at an unbelievable speed with so much to do and so much to pay attention to. We’re all working so hard to get somewhere that we forget to be here.
Do you find yourself rushing to get to work, rushing to pick up the kids, and even rushing home to relax? Now think about that for a minute…” rushing home to relax”?!
You may find yourself all worked up with knuckles tightening around the steering wheel, tension building up around your shoulders or back, and becoming irritable at the ‘slow’ person in front of you, with the hope of finally letting it all go when you reach home. It seems a bit counterproductive since it takes longer to release this built-up tension once you arrive home. In fact, it leads to lower patience at home. If you live with other people, it may make you more susceptible to arguments, which only amplify your irritability.
So how can you grapple with the stress of a hectic day?
Walking as an act of self-care
I recommend a simple walking practice that you can incorporate even on a busy day. Remember, mindfulness is not all about sitting, standing, or lying down in meditation. Movement is an important part of life and allowing your body to move and release stress, is an act of self-care. In this practice, we’re bringing real-time awareness to the act of walking.
Research suggests that many positive rewards stem from the mindfulness-based stress-reduction technique (a group program that was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s) of mindful walking. Walking upright on our two feet differentiates us from the rest of the species. It’s an activity rooted in simplicity and accessibility. It helps us clear our heads, regulates our blood sugar levels, enhances our metabolic health and improves our cognitive function. (1) A study revealed that a mindful practice steadied blood sugar levels and circulation in people. Another study shows that meditative walking is conducive to better balance and ankle coordination in older women. (2) (3)
Steps for mindful walking
Let’s start out by practising for a few minutes privately, and then we’ll bring it out into the world.
- Stand straight up with your knees a bit loose, eyes facing forward, while bringing attention to your breath. You can say to yourself “in” as you’re breathing in and “out” as you’re breathing out. This helps anchor us to the present moment.
- Shift your attention to the soles of the feet, feeling the weight on the feet. Bring your attention to all the mounds of the feet. Notice if there is more weight on certain areas than others.
- Begin to shift your weight on one leg, noticing the change in sensations of the leg and foot. Then shift your weight to the other leg, noticing the sensations again, and then shift back to the centre.
- Begin to gently lift the left leg (or you can also start with the right if you like), noticing the pressure moving to the right leg as the left heel and then the toe come off the ground.
- Continue to do this with one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it helps to say “heel, ball, toe, lift” to yourself to sustain attention on what is happening in the current moment.
Try this mindful walk at home for a few minutes at a time. Then, when you are walking to or from your car, try and practice this same present moment awareness with your walking. You can move a bit faster than you did when doing this at home, but still slower than your normal pace.
As you’re practising, bring attention to your senses. You might focus on sounds while mindfully walking or maybe the sights. Feel free to stop and smell the roses, if there are any around. Feel the touch of rain on your face or listen to the sound of wind whistling through the trees. Be consciously aware of your soundings – be it an idyllic setting or a bustling cityscape.
Whenever you are rushing anywhere, just say to yourself, “rushing, rushing, rushing.” This in itself widens the space between stimulus and response where awareness and choice lies.
You can walk away from stress while you’re on your way to work, in the hallways or while running errands.
Mindful walking can help you slow down in the face of life’s daily stressors. From regulating blood sugar levels and blood pressure to reducing the likelihood of metabolic syndrome and improving mood, there are many research-backed benefits of bringing conscious awareness to the act of walking. Such meditative walking is an act of self-care. It is accessible and simple and can be imbibed as a practice while running errands or even walking to your car. The steps of mindful walking comprise shifting your attention to your posture and your legs – particularly the soles, mounds of the feet, heels and toes; being mindful of the sights and sounds around you and anchoring your breath to the present moment.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.