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Mind-Body Walking: Medicine for Body and Spirit
Stress follows you everywhere, even into your workouts, and its voice is powerful. It reminds you how much stuff you have to do and how many things you have been putting off. It drags your body down and makes you feel sluggish, convincing you that your workout is hard. If only you could dump your stress and take a break. Your plate is too loaded, though. Time is precious. However, you can combine a workout for your body with a workout for your mind by mind-body walking.
Henry David Thoreau was aware of mind-body walking more than 100 years ago when he wrote, "I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit."
What Is Mind-Body Walking?
Mind-body walking is something you are probably not used to doing. If you are like most people, your mind never stops doing chores, even when you exercise. You know all too well how high you have loaded your plate, and so while you are exercising, thoughts clang in your head. Mind-body walking means becoming aware of these thoughts and choosing to stop them.
What Can Mind-Body Walking Do for You?
- Improve your health—Walking offers numerous physical benefits such as improving your circulation and controlling your weight.
- Reduce stress—When walking becomes a mind-body workout, the mental benefits increase. The most obvious benefit is a reduction in stress, and therefore, stress-related illnesses.
- Achieve your goals—Spirited walking also allows you to achieve what you might never have thought possible. For instance, maintaining a 3 miles per hour (mph) pace while walking can be difficult. However, if you were to repeat to yourself the mantra, "I am strong and I am fit," walking at that pace might seem easier.
- Enhance personal growth—In addition, mind-body walking may also improve your self-esteem, stimulate creativity, keep exercise from getting boring, and allow for present moment awareness.
Learning to Focus
So how do you take a spirited walk? By tuning out the mindless chatter in your head and focusing. Focusing while you walk, though, takes practice. As your mind wanders, you will need to keep pulling it back.
You can set a goal of focusing for 5-10 minutes at a time. You do not have to do this every workout. If you walk with buddies, make a pact to walk in silence for a short stretch.
Activities to Bring Mind and Body in Tune
To experience mind-body walking, try adding these activities to your walks:
- Breathing—Focus on breathing into your belly so that you feel your stomach expand. Then establish a rhythm with your steps. Consider saying "in, two, three," as you inhale and "out, two, three" as you exhale. Or count in four's if that feels more natural.
- Visualizing—Think of a major goal that you are working toward. Maybe you are writing a book or trying to lose 20 pounds. If so, walk as if you have accomplished these goals. In your mind, congratulate yourself for having met your goal or tell yourself how wonderful it feels.
- Repeating affirmations—To stop your self-talk, create a positive phrase and think of it as you walk. Say a prayer if you want. Just keep it simple, using one or two-syllable words. For example, you might recite "I am here, I am breathing" one syllable or word per step. When you do this, you will pull yourself into the present. You will also start breathing more deeply which will boost your energy. Most importantly, you will return home refreshed and invigorated.
Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
The benefits of walking. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.startwalkingnow.org/whystart%5Fbenefits%5Fwalking.jsp. Accessed September 24, 2015.
Research points to more health benefits from walking. Harvard Medical School website. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/press%5Freleases/research-points-to-even-more-health-benefits-of-walking. Accessed September 24, 2015.
Walk this way. Mindful website. Available at: http://www.mindful.org/walk-this-way. Accessed September 24, 2015.
Walking as meditation. Every Body Walk! website. Available at: http://everybodywalk.org/5-ways-exercise-can-help-improve-your-mental-health. Accessed September 24, 2015.
Walking reduces heart disease in people at risk. NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/12December/Pages/Walking-reduces-heart-disease-in-people-at-risk.aspx. Accessed September 24, 2015.
Walking for good health. Better Health Channel website. Available at: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Walking%5Ffor%5Fgood%5Fhealth. Updated June 2015. Accessed September 24, 2015.
Walking mindfully. RMIT University website. Available at: http://mams.rmit.edu.au/qdqjdwrpw3wm1.pdf. Accessed September 24, 2015.
What is walking meditation? Wildmind Buddhist Meditation website. Available at: http://www.wildmind.org/walking/overview. Accessed September 24, 2015.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Update Date: 09/24/2015