7 Mindful Walking Tips for More Meditative Walks
Mindful walking is a simple way to build awareness into one of the most foundational, everyday human activities – walking. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Mindful walking is simply about paying attention to the present moment as you go about your walk and noticing sights, sounds, and sensations that you normally don’t.
When was the last time you took a truly distraction-free walk?
I’m talking about no technology, no headphones, no phone, and no getting lost in thought. Simply walking, experiencing the walk you’re on in your daily routine, and curiously paying attention to the sensations in your own body, and to the environment around you.
I first learned about walking meditation during the course of a ten-day silent retreat I joined. Hours upon hours of seated meditation means a walk starts to feel like the most beautiful thing in the world.
It’s like that feeling of being incredibly thirsty, and water tastes sweeter than it’s ever tasted.
In that context, I joyfully started my first mindful walking session. I ambled slowly through the woods, savoring each step, noticing the texture of the ground, the sounds made by the twigs and leaves as I stepped on them, and the patterns of sunlight breaking through the trees.
What if you could walk through the world with that sense of wonder all the time?
That’s exactly what mindful walking implicitly asks us to consider.
Mindful walking can be revelatory because it sheds new light onto an activity that’s so mundane, we normally do it entirely on autopilot, resorting to podcasts and phone conversations to make it entertaining.
Let’s explore exactly what mindful walking is, how to practice it, and a couple of easy ways to try your very first mindful walk.
What is mindful walking?
Mindful walking is, to put it simply, when you walk with awareness. That’s it.
Later in this article, we’ll be exploring different strategies for gaining awareness during your walk, and for pulling yourself back to the present moment when you get distracted, but the foundational definition of mindful walking is as simple as walking with awareness of what you’re actually doing.
To take it a level deeper, you want to not only pay attention to the present moment but to do so nonjudgmentally. That means that if you set out on a walk with the intention of it being a “mindful walk,” you have to show yourself compassion and practice nonjudgment if you start to feel like you’re failing by getting too distracted. Getting distracted, and coming back to the present moment, is all part of the process.
If you’re already a meditator, mindful walking is an excellent way to “field test” the mindfulness skills you’ve been building on the meditation cushion. Practicing awareness when you’re out in the world has more dynamic energy than practicing awareness in a quiet room by itself.
Mindful walking brings its own challenges, but for many people, it’s also a pleasant and less “boring” experience than typical meditation.
Let’s jump into some strategies for mindful walking.
7 strategies for practicing mindful walking
As mentioned above, there’s no “right” way to practice mindful walking. If you’re paying attention to the present moment as you walk, you’re doing fine.
That being said, you might find it helpful to go into the experience with a few strategies, especially if you’re brand new to the practice.
Here are 7 strategies to help you cultivate mindfulness as you walk. Remember, you don’t need to do all of these. Just experiment with them until you find what’s most helpful for you.
1. Pause before you start your walk
Leave your technology at home. Ideally, you’re leaving the house with nothing in your pockets except your keys. Before you start walking, pause and breathe.
Notice how you’re feeling before your walk. Check-in with your mind and your body. Take a few deep breaths to reset your nervous system.
2. Start slow
You can walk mindfully at any speed, but you may find it’s helpful to start by walking slower than usual.
At meditation centers, mindful walking is often done inside, or in a small courtyard. Smaller-than-normal steps are taken. This act of walking in a different context than you normally would helps you remember that you’re not walking to arrive anywhere, or with any goal in mind. You’re simply observing the experience of walking.
Of course, if you’re walking around your neighborhood, you may not want to take tiny, slow steps, but going a bit slower than normal may serve as a reminder that this is a different kind of experience than normal.
3. Count your footsteps (or your breaths)
One of the tricky things about any form of meditation is that it’s easy to get distracted. Before long, you forget that you’re supposed to be meditating at all.
With mindful walking, the easiest way to counter this effect is to notice the rhythms of the physical activities that are already happening. Noticing and counting the breaths you take is a great place to start. You may find it’s even easier to count your footsteps.
Counting isn’t necessary, but it’s a good routine to fall back on if you find your attention wandering more than you’d like.
4. Focus on the sensations in your body
So – you’ve set off for your mindful walk, and you’ve succeeded in gaining some moments of present awareness by paying attention to your breath or your footsteps.
Try shifting your focus to the sensations in your body. In meditation terms, this is known as a “body scan meditation.” In the context of mindful walking, just think of it as a practice of noticing things that you don’t normally notice on a walk.
The feeling of your foot as it hits the ground, for example. Any pain, or lack of pain, in your knees or shins. The way your arms sway as you walk. The feeling of the wind in your hair.
5. Focus on the sensations around you
Once you’ve connected with your body, experiment with noticing what’s around you.
This part’s fun, because you start to notice things you never would have noticed on a normal walk.
Check-in with the sights, sounds, and smells of things you walk by. You can even feel the texture of that tree you’ve passed by on a thousand previous walks (and never touched before). Be curious about everything around you. Notice everything.
Before long, you’ll be noticing birds, trees, plants, and cracks in the sidewalk with flowers growing out of them. You’ll be bringing an entirely new experience to your walk.
6. When you get distracted, gently refocus
Getting distracted is a normal and inevitable part of any mindfulness practice.
When you feel yourself getting distracted, gently bring yourself back to the present moment, and whatever you’re focusing your attention on.
You may even forget that you were supposed to be practicing mindfulness. That’s okay!
Again, gently restart your practice, noticing the feelings in your body, the rhythm of your breath and your footsteps, and the experience of walking through the environment you’re in.
7. Practice nonjudgment
It’s important not to judge what you’re experiencing, especially when you experience negative feelings towards your own perceived lack of awareness or poor mindfulness “performance.”
Unfortunately, this is a common reaction from our minds. It’s easy to set out optimistically to walk mindfully, and then after five minutes, find your head filled with distracting thoughts.
That’s okay. Getting distracted is simply an opportunity to pull yourself back to awareness. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is to make sure that you don’t judge yourself.
How to go for your first mindful walk
So, if you’ve read this far, you’re a serious candidate for mindful walking and the well-being benefits it brings.
Maybe you’re even ready to go for your first mindful walk!
Just as with any other new practice, one of the biggest traps you can fall into is overanalyzing what you’re doing, or worrying you’re not doing it “right.”
Fortunately, there’s no right answer when it comes to mindful movement. Any way you can be more in tune with your experience while walking is progress towards the goal of being more mindful and a better mental health.
It might feel a bit unnatural at first, but over time, you may find yourself experiencing more and more awareness of the present moment when you’re out-and-about in the world.
And in the end, that’s the goal.
Rather than getting good at meditation practice, or at the art of mindful walking, all of these mindfulness practices are simply tools to lead you towards a more present, more curious, and more joyful experience of everyday life.
And now, you have an easy way to get started.