Right now, we may have more time to walk in the morning or afternoon sun than ever before. Many people are working from home, if working at all, and favorite destinations, like the museum, art center and zoo, are closed. Despite these restrictions, it is a good time to make a habit out of walking, in particular mindful walking. If you already regularly walk, keep doing so but perhaps more mindfully.
I returned to Salina from a weeklong cruise in the Caribbean on Saturday, March 14. Then the next day, I saw that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was recommending a 14-day home quarantine for Kansans who have traveled on a cruise ship on or after March 15. Since I had only returned home a day earlier, the date seemed arbitrary and made me feel anxious so I contacted my local nurse practitioner, as I wanted to keep myself and others safe. I explained where I was and when I returned. I was told that if I can, I should self-quarantine for the next 14 days. Therefore I went home, feeling paranoid that symptoms of COVID-19 could appear at any moment of any day for the next couple weeks.
The next couple days, I may have driven my husband crazy with me home all the time, and me worrying about myself as well as everyone else on Earth. With assurance from the Internet that it is OK to take a walk while quarantining as long as I kept my distance from other people, I stepped out of my home for the first time in over 72 hours. Just getting fresh air and walking to a specific park and back was refreshing, leaving me feeling less stressed and anxious upon return. While walking, I tried my best to not think about the news and uncertainty of the future.
Soon after, I watched a webinar that was partially about managing stress, which mentioned both walking and mindfulness. Other webinar attendees commented on how positive walking made them feel. I acknowledged that leaving my house after a few days cooped up did make me feel much better mentally, although I was unfamiliar with the phrase “mindful walking.” I found several books in Hoopla, our digital service for ebooks, audiobooks, comics, movies and music, about walking and mindful walking. I checked out a couple ebooks and read them cover to cover to learn about and understand this concept in order to practice it.
To practice mindful walking, you just relax, walk and notice what’s happening. It sounds so simple, but it takes practice to strictly pay attention to surroundings rather than think about what’s for lunch or dinner, when you’ll see distant family again, the state of the world and anything else that would be applicable to you.
“Mindful Thoughts for Walkers: Footnotes on the Zen Path” by Adam Ford begins with saying, “One of the kindest things we can do for ourselves is to go for a good walk. It is one of the most natural activities in the world, exercising the body and stimulating the heart, while at the same time freeing the mind to become more open and alert.”
The book instructs the reader to let go of thinking and just walk, one foot in front of the other. Ford describes how the illusion of haste is pushed away when mindful walking occurs. You’ll learn how to focus breathing for your mindful walk. Ford divided up sections on various senses, such as smelling and listening. “Go for a walk and just listen,” he says. Readers are told that a great walk is in the evening, among the stars and a well-lit moon. Tonight, when I’m writing this, would be the perfect night for such a walk as it is the largest full moon of 2020.
Another notable portion of this book is when the author brings up a fork in the road, as when you have no destination in mind, which way does the mindful walker choose? As Ford says, “When walking mindfully, the fork in the road will usually be of no great consequence – either way will be fine.” Maybe you’re thinking that it will be impossible to only think of the here and now and thoughts may seep in but that’s fine and there is no need to become too frustrated about the thought intrusion because as Ford says, “Those who practice meditation or walking mindfulness always have to deal with distracting thoughts; we recognize this as a normal state of affairs.” When this happens, you can perform the breathing exercise in this book to bring you back to the present moment. The book goes over locations and times to mindfully walk such as by rivers, the city, sunrises, sunsets, rainy weather and more. Anytime and anyplace is suitable for mindful walking.
“Walking: Essays and Exercises for Mindfully Moving Through the World” by Douglas Baker is similar to the previous book but with more detailed exercises. This book explains the three stages of mindful walking, which are concentration, open attention and insight. Regarding practicing the three stages, Baker says, “Start walking, and focus intently on one experience, such as sensations in the feet. After a minute or two, shift to the second stage, allowing your attention to go panoramic, unfocused. Walk and let your spacious awareness receive anything that happens – a sound, a smell, a sensation, a thought – not locking on anything for more than a few seconds. Notice each one like a bird flying through your sky. Finally, stop, pause and close your eyes. Take in the effects of the practice.” This exercise is intended to make your mind more quiet and relaxed, which is quite important when you’ve been under a little to a lot of stress.
Throughout the book, there are more exercises to follow and phrases to say to yourself before and during walking, as well as a lot of insight about the practice of mindful walking. Baker concludes the book by stating, “We walk to cultivate mindfulness, a sense of being at ease and at home, inside ourselves, wherever we are, whatever is happening … Each time we walk mindfully, it’s a dawn of something new – a new way of seeing ourselves and the world around us.”
A cute book that I enjoyed regarding mindful walking was “A Walk in the Wood: Meditations on Mindfulness with a Bear Named Pooh” by Dr. Joseph Parent and Nancy Parent. In each section of this book, the reader follows Winnie-the-Pooh and then learns about a new concept of mindful walking that relates to the characters of Hundred Acre Wood in the story taking place. The reader is shown how mindful walking benefits Winnie-the-Pooh because “when Pooh relaxed and settled into Aimless Wandering, he experienced everything more vividly. Not needing things to come out a particular way, he saw everything revealed in its own natural beauty.” He encounters Roo, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and Rabbit and Kanga, showing them the benefits of mindful walking, or as Pooh would say, aimless wandering. For example, he encourages Piglet to join him and they “practiced just noticing as they let their senses lead them through the Wood. Immersed in sights, sounds, sensations, and smells, and experiencing them all as if for the first time, they felt renewed.” Winnie-the-Pooh maintains a positive attitude, and it is important to do your best to emulate his attitude when mindful walking.
In addition you should check out the classic book “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau (available on Sunflower eLibrary, and Hoopla in an ebook edition from Dover Publications and Read Books Ltd.) as the author ruminates on walking, and although he doesn’t specify “mindful walking,” this practice seems to be what Thoreau wants others to practice. In his essay, Thoreau says, “When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I will bend my steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide for me, I find, strange and whimsical as it may seem, that I finally and inevitably settle southwest, toward some particular wood or meadow or deserted pasture or hill in that direction.” This is exactly what mindful walking is – letting yourself decide what direction to go without any designated purpose as to why a particular direction.
Other books that I recommend checking out regarding mindful walking that I checked out and browsed are “The Art of Mindful Walking: Meditations on the Path” by Buddhist teacher Adam Ford and a beautiful picture book titled “My Mindful Walk with Grandma” by Sheri Mabry and illustrated by Wazza Pink.
“The Art of Mindful Walking: Meditations on the Path” has sections such as The Long Walk; City Walking, The Daily Walk, The Walk to Work and The Night Walk. Whatever your situation is and the type of walk you will go on, you’ll find advice on how to walk mindfully in this book. In The Long Walk, you’ll learn how to prepare with various supplies. Regarding the practice of mindful walking, Ford says, “Walking mindfully involves more than just watching the country flow by. All our senses should be involved. A blind man is alert to the call of birds – and we can be too. There are the sounds of the wind, differing from tree to tree; of running water, infinitely variable; distant dogs barking; birds singing. And there is the feeling of wind, sun and rain on the skin as we walk through changing weather. And let us not ignore all the ever-changing smells – the sweet scent of honeysuckle or the warmly coconut smell of gorse in full bloom; the richly pungent smells wafting from the farmyard; the aroma of loam, rotting leaves, and wet earth.” What your senses experience will differ daily, especially with changing Kansas weather conditions. Use this time to be fully present, being aware of all your senses: what you can hear, see, smell and touch, and taste, if deemed to be safe.
In “My Mindful Walk with Grandma,” a girl walks with her grandmother, who tells her granddaughter to pay attention to the sounds at present. After taking a few deep breaths, the young girl says, “I hear katydids and spring peepers and crickets chirping and humming and buzzing. I smell pine cones and ferns. Sun heats my cheeks. My toes are wet and cold in my socks. Grandma’s hand is warm and soft.” Imagine what you may hear, see, smell and sense on a walk in your neighborhood. As the author notes at the end of the book, learning to be present in the moment is what mindfulness is all about, and belly breathing can be helpful with instilling calmness.
The forecast for Salina is set to fluctuate, 80s to 40s but dress comfortably for the weather and set aside time to mindfully walk as you’ll feel mentallly better and feel less stressed afterward. I was skeptical at first, but from experience, it truly does help me. I hope mindful walking can be a positive experience as well for you to decrease anxiety and stress during this time of uncertainty.
I admit I have not taken a mindful walk on a daily basis, but I am attempting to do so often, paying attention to the sights, sounds and smells. Although no particular direction in mind, my body takes me to a park and back home, but taking different streets to do so. In my walks, I’ve seen a variety of birds including cardinals, a couple blue jays, robins and others I do not know the names for. Other animals I’ve seen include a bee, dogs and cats. In addition to animals, I saw a variety of plant life, from flowers to trees that caught my eyes for their beauty or interesting way leaves wrapped around the trunk and branches. I heard dogs barking; the songs of the aforementioned birds; a bee buzzing among purple flowers; and wind gusts. I smelled the flowering trees and plants. I noticed the unique architecture of various homes and lawn ornaments, as well as chalk art near my feet.
When you mindfully walk, what will you experience? What will you hear? What will you see? What will you smell? Take a walk, focusing on the here and now, and find out. Then upon returning to where you live, hopefully your stress and anxiety will have decreased and a feeling of refreshment wrapped around you.