Every morning, at the crack of dawn, I’m out for my daily walk. I’ve got to get my exercise in before it gets too hot. Somewhere during this constitutional, my purpose changes. My pace slows down, my tummy relaxes and I begin to take deep breaths. I become more self-aware and more conscious of my surroundings. My senses sparkle and are attuned to a “hidden awareness” all around me: the leaves are beginning to change on that yonder tree … there are new tire skid marks by the stop sign … I feel pinpricks on my forearm, it’s gonna be hot today. I love it when I get into this zone, all courtesy of mindful walking.
Mindful walking, sometimes called walking meditation, is a way to practice moving without a specific goal or intention. Mindful walking simply means to walk and to notice, being aware of each step and of each breath. (Full disclosure: this is harder than it sounds.) It can be practiced anywhere, either alone in nature or with others on a crowded city street.
Wayne Benenson, Ph.D.
“Mindful walking helps me let go of my judgmental thoughts as they accumulate throughout the day.”
This more conscious way of walking trains the mind to be present to what’s happening in the moment. In this state of heightened awareness, we can look at the events of our life with new eyes and a fresh attitude. Mindful walking helps me let go of my judgmental thoughts as they accumulate throughout the day. Such mindful awareness allows me to focus more on being present and more willing to accept life as it is rather than how we expect it to be. Studies of mindful meditation show that the more present we are the higher the level of the enzyme telomerase in our body. This is a good thing since telomerase helps reduce life stress.
While mindful walking has no single explanation the goal is simple – to be consciously aware while moving through the environment. The journey becomes less about the destination and more about an awareness of what is happening outside and inside us. If you’re lucky, stillness just happens as you notice the marvelous vibrancy in the hush of the moment.
So, what does one look for in making this transition? The movement moves from the simple to the sublime:
- Begin walking, then, intentionally, go a little slower than normal;
- Pay attention to your senses as you walk;
- Be aware of each breath; breath easily but deeply;
- When your mind drifts from walking and breathing, gently guide your thoughts back to walking and breathing;
Recently I had an unexpected and unconscious encounter with mindful walking. I was having a picnic lunch with my granddaughter, an undergraduate at ASU. There we were at a local park fueled up with our Subways, chips and drinks. But, more importantly, I was a captive audience. She regaled me with tales of woe about a topic close to her heart … her boy problems. After an hour, her lunch untouched, we made our way back to my car. As I opened the car door I realized I didn’t have my sunglasses. My granddaughter suggested we retrace our steps to where we ate. We walked back silently to the picnic table, slowly and deliberately scanning the ground for the glasses. It was hot outside. We heard each other’s huffing and puffing. Just before we reached the shelter, I laughed. Twice. First, for seeing the glasses on top of the picnic table and second (and a most delicious insight) for realizing that our little trek to that picnic table was really an excellent example of mindful walking. We had both become more aware and present.
When we got back to the car, we picked up the conversation about her love life. This time though the tone was different: her speech was softer, her cadence slower. “Ya know, Papa, I know my relationship issues sometimes sounds like a soap opera. [Pause.] But sometimes they can also be like the sky after a rainstorm.” Hmmm . . . I choose to believe that our little mindful walk had something to do with her expanding perspective. And even more pleasing was the emotional rush we both experienced: an unscripted and mindful burst of awareness, of what’s invisible in plain sight.
Now back to my morning walk. My route begins and ends on a sun-lit greenspace. The homestretch leads me through a wooded glen (with Lookout Mountain peaking through the trees). I always get a smile on my face when I see the dappled sunlight on blossoming bushes. I notice birds a-singing. Hey, where did they come from? Were they here when I began my walk? All these wonders . . . invisible in plain sight indeed! And, best of all, when my walk downshifted to a more mindful gear, I realized I felt quite refreshed and ready to take on whatever the day would bring. Lovely.
Homework for this week: schedule a mindful walk during some part of your day or week. Enjoy the moment.
Dr. B, aka Wayne Benenson, Ph.D., has had lots of career opportunities to be mindful: as an elementary and early childhood teacher, a college professor and a researcher on peer mediation. He currently offers mindfulness tutorials, short and sweet (20 minutes), via Zoom. For more information check out his Facebook page at or contact him here.