Walking Mindfully

Mary Tweed
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Mindfulness is very much a buzz word in the current climate. Every newspaper and magazine seems to carry articles about how mindfulness can help practitioners with everything from stress and depression to relationships and work. The basic premise of mindfulness is that by being truly present in the moment and focusing on the breath, one notices purely how one is feeling at an exact point in time; the mind cannot dwell on past problems or anxieties about the future. This brings about a feeling of calm and also trains the mind to be in control of thoughts and emotions, rather than being a slave to them. The best analogy I have heard about mindfulness, is that our modern lives are like living with hundreds of windows open on the computer all at the same time. If a computer was left running continuously in that state, it would eventually crash. Our brains are the same. They need time out in order to reboot from time to time. Mindfulness teaches our brains how to restore a sense of balance.

Mindfulness has been the subject of rigorous scientific studies, which have concluded that the practitioners can expect the following benefits:

  • Reduction in anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability
  • Improved memory
  • Faster reaction time
  • Increased mental and physical stamina
  • Improves heart and circulatory health by reducing blood pressure
  • Stronger immune system

Mindfulness can be taught in classes, or through the use of apps, such as Headspace, which has 523,000 users in the UK, having tripled its followers in the last 12 months. It can be practiced anytime, anywhere. Indeed, it can be combined with exercise and the natural rhythm of walking makes it the perfect companion to mindfulness. Instead of focussing on the breath one can pay attention to the regular pace of the footsteps, thus integrating a short meditation into the mundane task of walking to the shops, to a meeting or simply down a corridor. Meditation and exercise are natural twins. Mindfulness can help to reduce elevated cortisol levels, which contribute to belly fat.

How to Walk Mindfully

  • Start by standing still and simply noticing where you weight falls through your foot. Is it towards the balls of your feet or the heels? Shift your weight around and be aware of how that affects the contact with the ground. Ideally your weight should be balanced through the centre of your feet, falling through your arches.
  • Begin walking and notice how the foot strikes the ground with the heel, rolling forwards to push off from the toes. If your mind starts to wander and you find yourself compiling to do lists in your head, gently bring your focus back to the act of your feet pacing the ground alternately.
  • Now concentrate on all five senses, working through what you can see, smell, hear, feel and even taste.

Aside from the benefits of mindfulness, nordic walking mindfully should bring a heightened alertness to your activity. You will notice the world around you with greater clarity and feel more energised. Start by aiming to walk mindfully as far as the next tree or the length of a short street, rather than setting out to walk mindfully for thirty minutes. It is harder than it sounds to stay focussed and prevent the mind from wandering, so aim to build up gradually.

Next time you nordic walk anywhere, instead of walking unconsciously and letting the mind busy itself with thoughts, see if you can use the time to reboot your brain and find some space and clarity. That way, not only will you be exercising your body, but you will also be giving your mind a workout too.

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