A Walking Meditation to Help You Find New Ways to Appreciate Life
Each of these elements makes a great relaxation technique on its own. When combined, though, magic happens! Let me break down how each one helps you manage stress and then provide some direction on the “reflection” part.
Exercise as a Stress Management Tool
No two individuals share the same body chemistry, thought patterns, beliefs, habits, or responsiveness to medications and therapy. Add to the equation how medications and therapy for stress, anxiety, and depression take time to start working and change in effectiveness over time. Exercise shines as a tool to fill in the gaps created by these unpredictable factors to enhance other treatments.
Exercise reduces stress, in part, by bringing closure to the stress cycle. The stress response prepares you to fight or flee, both requiring physical action. If you never follow through on either, your brain may still think that the threat exists. Exercise tells the brain that you did, in fact, react appropriately and it no longer needs to keep the body primed for movement.
The Nurturing Element of Nature
Breathe in Relaxation
Take a big breath right now and notice which part of your body moves the most. Is it your shoulders, chest, or stomach? Movement of your shoulders or chest indicate shallow, stressed breathing. If your stomach moved, or more precisely the area between your belly button and your rib cage, you took advantage of your diaphragm and got the deepest breath possible.
When you inhale, your diaphragm muscle works like the plunger inside of a syringe. It contracts downward, creating a vacuum that causes your lungs above it to expand into the empty space and suck air into your body. As your lungs fill with air, your rib cage expands; and your internal organs get pushed down, making your belly stick out.
The Impact of Mindfulness in Reducing Stress
In a walking reflection, mindfulness takes shape in a shifting awareness of the various parts of your body. Focusing on a physical sensation also offers a distraction from thoughts that trigger stress, preventing brain fatigue from overthinking. The reprieve your brain gets might appear to be temporary, but even brief shifts toward more positive thoughts build resilience against stress.
Adding Gratitude to Your Relaxation Routine
Music’s Contribution to Relaxation
Putting All of the Pieces Together in a “Walking Meditation”
Allow yourself about 20 to 30 minutes to reap the benefits of a walking reflection. Find music you consider energizing and uplifting with a strong beat that matches an easy, steady walking pace for you. Opt for music without lyrics, if possible, so that you keep your thoughts focused on the reflection prompts without inviting constant distraction from the words in the song. Not only could it raise your stress level, it could also leave you feeling drained instead of energized by the end of the walk from dividing your attention.
Swing your arms naturally at your sides, and take a deep breath in through your nose. Pause the breath for just a moment before releasing from your mouth. Keep the back of your throat and nose open when you stop the flow of breath to prevent any unnecessary muscle tension. Drop your shoulders nice and low, especially when inhaling and pausing the breath. Roll your shoulders back and down if you feel them start to creep up toward your ears.
Bring your attention to different parts of your body as you walk. A sequence that flows from one area to a nearby one will help you remember the order more easily in the future. The following prompts increase both internal and external awareness that relate to each body area, making them easy to recall. That way, you won’t need to print out and read the list as you walk. Download the guided walking meditation mp3 straight to your phone to make it even easier:
Don’t worry if the reflection prompts feel difficult at first. It gets easier and faster with practice. Come up with one thought or response to start and increase to two or three new thoughts per prompt on each walk.
Pay attention to your feet and think of something that makes you excited about the future. Are you making progress toward a goal? Do you look forward to an upcoming trip or milestone in your work or personal achievements? Whatever the source of the excitement, it creates positive ripples of thought for you.
Move your attention up your body to your legs. Find a positive belief or value that forms the foundation of your actions, something that guides your decisions in life and makes you feel good about yourself when you follow through on it.
Now focus on your stomach and an inspiration, motivation, or passion that fuels your daily life. Think of this as your purpose as you move through each day. Yes, you can have more than one. The purpose that motivates you at this point in time might not match yesterday’s and may change tomorrow as well, so identify your reason for stepping out in the world today.
Give your hands the attention they deserve, too. Focus on something you created with these hands, literally or figuratively, that makes you proud. What did you build with your own two hands?
Put some more muscle into your thoughts as you move your attention to your arms. Name one of your strengths, a quality you possess that carries you through difficult times. Other people in your life may also see this trait as something they rely on.
Feel the love, love, love next. Focus on your heart and something or someone that you truly adore in your life, that you accept completely with overwhelming gratefulness.
Let’s not forget your back here. Think of someone who’s “got your back,” or makes you feel supported and accepted.
Your voice, your most powerful vehicle for communication, works hard every day and deserves attention, too. Come up with a positive statement about who you are.
Bring your attention to your eyes next, or rather what your eyes bring inside from the outer world. Find something of beauty around you.
Focus on your ears and the music that appears in many forms in your life. Think of a compliment you received recently that sounded like “music to your ears,” whether or not you accepted it gratefully at the time.
Bringing Your Mindful Walking Session to a Close
Pause for one more thought at the end of your walking meditation. Finish the statement below with a positive word or phrase to take with you into the rest of your day. Repeat it later to yourself to come back to this moment of focus and connection with your thoughts and body.
However you choose to finish the sentence, make sure this affirmation feels good to you. Say it out loud or to yourself several times as you finish your walk and throughout the rest of the day!