“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.”
(Thich Nhat Hanh)
Every day, where possible I walk in woodland local to me, the area is called Cannock Chase, and is an area of outstanding natural beauty. All the photo’s on my website have been taken in this area unless otherwise stated.
What I have noticed is that when I’m walking, I am also activating my five senses, and really consciously aware of my experiences in the moment. As I walk, I am connecting with nature, each step along the path, is a step to discovery, of myself. I become aware of my body, and the environment I am walking in.
Mindful walking can be anywhere, any time. I use the same ethos whether in my garden, walking to the local shop or in a busy place, or beautiful park or beach, it doesn’t have to be woodland. There is no time limit, its about what is comfortable for you, if your mind wanders, gentling bring it back to the present moment and what you are sensing. Be aware of your surroundings, stay safe and walk with someone you trust if you are unsure.
My lived experience
Mindful walking has helped me to regain a sense of myself. When I first started to try mindful walking, I had been in a dark place in my mental health. Being outdoors was a huge barrier to me. I started off with ten steps to the apple tree in my back garden, and back to the house. I focused on counting my steps, and my breathing. Small achievable steps, that grounded me and gave me a purpose. Gradually over time I walked further, and then started to go for walks in local woodland.
Body awareness – the foundation of mindfulness.
Having body awareness is a key part of mindful walking. It enables us to focus on experiencing and sensing our body in the environment, rather than thinking about it. We allow the experiences and senses to come and go, without judgement. As I walk, I notice the sensations I experience in my body, and then I make a conscious decision to relax those sensations, and let them go. Gradually I find that my body starts to relax, and I feel calmer and more refreshed. How often do we walk somewhere paying little attention to our bodies (unless we are in pain) or the sensation of our body when walking?
I start by standing still, drawing my senses to the feeling the ground beneath my feet, this helps to ground me in the moment. I take a moment to check-in with how I am feeling, letting these thoughts come and go. I notice my breath. I start to walk, paying attention to how fast or slow I am walking, whether I stop for a moment, or choose to walk on uneven ground or stay on a path. Do I step in puddles or walk around them? What is my breath like now I’m walking, is it in-sync with my footsteps? Noticing what I do with my arms, are they swinging at my sides as I walk, or are they planted firmly in my coat pockets? remember there is no right or wrong, wherever is comfortable is key. Is my back straight, shoulders back or am I hunched forward? Is my chin close to my chest or I am walking with my head up? Over time I have noticed that my posture has improved. I used to walk quite hunched over, chin to chest, looking more at the ground, with my hands in my coat pockets, and I noticed this had a huge impact on my overall feeling. Once I started to pay attention to the sensations in my body, and how much more air I was breathing in when I adjusted my posture, I felt so much better overall. Yes there are times when I slip back into old styles of walking, I bring my awareness back into the present.
Environmental awareness – engaging the senses
Alongside noticing my body as I walk, I am looking, sensing my environment, paying attention to what I am experiencing. What can I see around me? what can I smell? what is the weather like? is the wind blowing across my face or is it raining? what can I hear? is the wind rustling the leaves in the trees? are there birds, planes, traffic? people walking passed? When in woodland, I often pick up a stick, stroke the bark of a tree, pick up a leaf, or a stone, a pine cone, really taking in the detail, feeling the texture. I also take photo’s of what I call ‘treasures’ that I feel a real connection to. Sometimes I fill my pockets with pine cones, different coloured leaves and unusual stones….taking a bit of mindfulness home with me. The key to environmental awareness is really taking in the environment in the moment, engaging with it, really noticing the finer details and experiencing in a visceral way.
At the end of each walk, I bring my attention back to the present moment, my feet firmly on the ground. I take a moment, pausing to acknowledge the end of my walk. I then close the mindful walking session by choosing one thing that I have experienced to take into the rest of the day (usually something like a stone in my pocket).