Walking soothes your mind; connects you with your body; and helps you manage anxiety, cope with the blues, and improve your happiness. Here are a few ideas about how to conceptualize taking a walk without having it be a “should.“
Taking a Walk for…
Walking can be another wonderful opportunity to cultivate mindfulness. Movement can strengthen our awareness and sometimes is a more accessible object for meditation than the breath. When you have selected your place, divide the walking meditation into three parts. During the first part, perhaps 10–15 minutes long, walk a little more slowly than you would normally. During the second, also about 10–15 minutes long, slow down even more. In the third, the remaining time you walk, move quite slowly.
Try the Rockport Walk. Take your pulse and begin to warm up by walking in place for a few moments. Then, hit the track and speed up to the fastest walk possible, without speed walking. When you reach the end of the one mile, write down the time it took you and immediately take your pulse. If you do not have a heart rate monitor, take your pulse by gently placing your left forefinger and middle finger on your left neck just below the jawbone. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply that number by four.
Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout. Some studies show that exercise can work quickly to elevate depressed mood in many people. Although the effects may be temporary, they demonstrate that a brisk walk or other simple activity can deliver several hours of relief, similar to taking an aspirin for a headache.
The website Brain Pickings writes that author and illustrator Maira Kalman’s proclivity for walking and movement as a gateway to a higher sensibility is something a number of great creators have in common. Dickens and Hugo were avid walkers during ideation; Burns often composed while “holding the plough;” Twain paced madly while dictating; Goethe and Scott composed on horseback; Mozart preferred the back of a carriage; Lord Kelvin worked on his mathematical studies while traveling by train.
Recent research shows that taking a stroll through a natural setting can boost performance on tasks: “Taking in the sights and sounds of nature appears to be especially beneficial for our minds.” In fact, Dr. Marc Berman and fellow researchers at the University of Michigan found that performance on memory and attention tests improved by 20 percent after study subjects paused for a walk through an arboretum. When these people were sent on a break to stroll down a busy street in town, no cognitive boost was detected.
As spring arrives and the days are longer, get your sneakers on and experiment with walking. Just like breathing, it is something that we have with us all the time. Bringing intention to the walk you may already be doing is a way to take care of yourself without adding more pressure to your life.
What other kinds of walks do you do?