Turn a Simple Walk Into an Effective Stress Relief Activity
Meditation is one of the great stress management techniques because it carries many varied benefits. It can help people create mental and emotional space between them and their stressors, allowing them to gain perspective and get their bearings before tackling the stressful situations at hand. It can also enable people to relax their mind and body to reverse their stress response. In the long term, the benefits are multiplied because meditation practice can lead to greater resilience to future stress.
That said, more than a few people have found the practice of meditation to be challenging at first, and this leads to some people giving up on the practice before they really get started with it because they find it either difficult to connect with it, counterintuitive for their busy mind, or challenging to stick with. Walking meditation provides the benefits of meditation combined with the benefits of exercise, and has the bonus benefit of being easy to learn and practice, thereby making walking meditation a great technique for those new to meditation. If the meditation part feels challenging, you can move in and out of using it as a meditation technique over the course of a walk, working your way up to stay in a meditative state for longer and longer periods of time. Either way, the stress management benefits can come from a good walk. Here’s how walking meditation works.
How to Do a Walking Meditation
- Get into comfortable clothing and shoes, and set aside some uninterrupted free time. You can set a timer on your watch if you’d like.
- Begin walking at a comfortable pace. Really focus on the sensations that you feel in your body as you walk. Your walk can be at any pace, as long as it feels comfortable. Many people prefer a slow pace to really savor each physical sensation involved, but a fast-paced walk can become immersive as well. There’s no wrong way to do it. As you walk, feel the weight of your body on the bottom of your feet. Feel your arms swinging with each stride. If you find thoughts coming into your mind, gently let them go and redirect your focus to the sensations you’re feeling as you walk. Stay focused on now.
- You can also focus on your breathing as you walk. Try to breathe in for two steps, and out for two or three, for example. Focus on keeping your breathing and your steps coordinated. Or use mantra meditation techniques by repeating a mantra in your head as you walk, in time with your steps — for example, every four steps.
- If you find it difficult to focus on your breathing and become lost in thought, this is okay; simply redirect your attention back to your breathing, as you would with any meditation. If this feels frustrating or challenging, you can work your way into meditation by listening to music, particular music with no lyrics. This can help you to practice focusing on what’s happening at the moment.
- Again, if thoughts about work, money, that fight you had this morning, or other stressors creep into your head, give yourself a pat on the back for noticing, and gently redirect your attention to now, to your walking meditation practice. It’s optimal to do this for 30 minutes, several times per week, but if you only have 10 minutes, or even 5, that’s better than no practice at all. Walking meditation can be useful even in small doses.
- Experiment! Try different paces, different mantras, different styles of breathing, and see what works best for you.
- Commit more to the practice than to the amount of time you spend. For example, it’s more important to focus on doing your walking meditation a certain number of times per week than a certain amount of minutes per time. Once it’s a habit, you can always work your way into longer sessions.
- You may also want to use music as a focal point. Just be careful not to get sucked into thinking about the meaning of the lyrics, or technically, you’re no longer meditating. (However, listening to music and exercising bring stress management benefits, too!)
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