Mindful walking brings positive rewards to mental, physical well-being
The beauty of mindful walking lies in its simplicity. It doesn’t require any gear or equipment, is age-agnostic and doesn’t need a fixed place or time.
Published: 04th December 2022 05:00 AM | Last Updated: 04th December 2022 11:02 AM | A+A A-
We all walk. But how many of us walk mindfully? The seemingly mundane act became Delhi-based event manager Ritu Mahajan’s greatest therapeutic tool. As a restorative practice, it helped centre her into the present moment, offering a kind of healing she never thought mere walking could achieve.
Mahajan first noticed signs of psychomotor agitation, such as compulsive wringing of hands, tapping of feet and moving things around for no apparent reason, a year ago. When one of her somatic symptoms of responding hyperactively to the smallest stimulus became pronounced, she saw a doctor. The root of her problem was her demanding job, which had become increasingly stressful during the pandemic.
It entailed perpetual troubleshooting, being responsible for every little vendor-related detail and working more than 15-16 days without a break sometimes. On top of that, she did not have support from her manager and was constantly on the tenterhooks of being fired. Her need to ‘survive’ made
a serious dent in her psychological health.
That’s when her cognitive behavioural therapist introduced her to the simple practice of mindful walking or the art of doing so deliberately while being aware of every step one takes. It became her gateway to healing.
What further worked in Mahajan’s favour was that mindful walking, unlike some of the other traditional forms of sit-down therapy, allowed her to move freely, and to be an active participant rather than a passive observer. Given her stress-induced hyperactivity, therapeutic walking made her feel unshackled as she slowly found her groove.
“I am much better today, but there are still anxious moments when I feel jittery. A quick mindful walk is always just a few steps away,” says Mahajan, with a reassuring simple.
How does it work?
The practice is as simple as it sounds. All you have to do is walk consciously. “As you take the first step, notice the rhythmic lifting and falling of your feet. Become aware of your surroundings and unite your body with the environment. This means taking in all the sights, smells and impressions as you walk,” says Mumbai-based psychotherapist Gauri Nath. The pace doesn’t matter as long as you pay attention.
The beauty of mindful walking lies in its simplicity. It doesn’t require any gear or equipment, is age-agnostic and doesn’t need a fixed place or time. “You can practise mindful walking for a few seconds to an hour. Even walking your dog or a quick trip to the grocery store can be turned into a mindful one,” says Nath, adding, “Akin to the Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing (spending time in nature to enhance well-being), mindful walking is one of the most accessible forms
of psychological well-being.”
A meditation in motion
“Right on the top is that any mindfulness practice, including this one, takes you away from that obnoxious phone/tablet/ laptop screen,” says Gurugram-based meditation coach Shashank Rai. You engage your senses and connect with the land beneath your feet and the sky above your head. “There is something powerfully sublime about that.
It’s both grounding and uplifting, offering the rare chance to walk without distraction,” he says, adding, “Be sure to leave your phone and headphones at home and focus only on the steps you take,” he says.
At first, you’ll be bombarded with intrusive thoughts. Don’t lose heart, suggests Delhi-based psychologist Charu Jain. “That’s the nature of our thoughts. They come in hordes. Your job is to intentionally focus and refocus on walking. Every time a thought scoops you out of the present moment, gently get your mind back to it. Watch your steps closely. Notice the sound they make,” she says.
If you are experiencing a great deal of psychological stress, you may not be able to walk mindfully at once. “In such a case, your body releases hormones that manifest as excess energy in the body, causing restlessness, as a result of which, the pace of thoughts becomes severe too. When you notice it, walk a bit faster. Doing so will help expend that energy, bringing your mind back to calmness,” says Jain.
Walking mindfully is akin to meditation in motion, which helps lower stress, improves sleep and mood, and reduces blood pressure. It can help better concentration as well if practised consistently. Having said that, if you’re suffering from conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression or even a severe form of generalised anxiety, being mindful may not come easily, but that doesn’t mean you don’t do it all.
“Start by walking for just 20 seconds first, and then sit down. When you are ready for round two, start again, but take five extra steps this time,” he says. The idea is not to count the steps but to make every step count.
✥ Choose a safe environment
✥ Before you start walking, stand in place for a few seconds noticing your environment
✥ Chose a natural rhythm of walking; slow or fast it is totally up to you
✥ As you move, watch the footstep roll from heel to toe
✥ Move while breathing in and out slowly and consciously, keeping a straight posture
✥ Notice the smells, sights and sensations around you
✥ Walk for as long as it is comfortable. Pause and restart.