Practicing mindfulness can be a great exercise in increasing our self-awareness while also strengthening our relationship with ourselves.
When you hear the term, Mindfulness, you may automatically picture a person sitting on the floor with their eyes closed, meditating. While this is an accurate depiction, you can practice Mindfulness in various ways. If you are interested in practicing some form of Mindfulness but prefer to not sit and meditate, I suggest being mindful on your next walk.
Several recommendations for walking mindfully include going on a walk by yourself (if you can and it is safe to do so), leaving all forms of technology on silent, and wearing comfortable footwear. If you are not able to go on a walk alone or prefer to have someone with you—great—they can join you.
For us parents out there who need to bring our children with us, that can be a great opportunity to start teaching our kids about Mindfulness and experiencing present moments with them.
Step 1: Breathing
My first step typically starts with asking myself a question I like from Dr. Judson Brewer’s recent book, Unwinding Anxiety:
“How do I know I am breathing?”
Dr. Jud expresses that may seem like a funny question, but it can be a great place to start drawing our attention to the present moment (Unwinding Anxiety). Having your kids hear you say, out loud, ‘Hmm, how do I know I am breathing?’ will possibly bring a laugh but also get them to mirror the behavior.
Step 2: The Senses
After spending several minutes focusing on your breathing, the second step I like to move into is focusing on my senses.
I do this by saying out loud, or to myself, the first things I notice from my senses, not in any particular order.
For example, maybe I notice I am looking at a bird, I will say seeing; then, I smell a trash truck driving by, and I will say smelling; then, I hear the trash truck driving by, hearing (maybe both simultaneously—smelling—hearing); then, I feel pain in my left foot and say feeling; I feel myself sweating and say feeling again; then, I hear one of my kids say ‘I want to go home,’ and I say hearing and then respond to my child. (This builds off of an exercise Dr. Jud discusses in his book called RAIN.)
Feel free to focus on your senses for as long as you like, or the time you have available.
Step 3: Loving Kindness
The third step is to wrap up the walk using the mindfulness meditation called Loving Kindness. This is another exercise I learned about from Dr. Jud. You can find this meditation on Youtube here: ‘ opens in a new windowLoving Kindness meditation guided by Dr. Jud Brewer.’
I suggest listening to it several times to help get familiar with it, and once you are familiar, you can practice it to yourself while walking. I appreciate the Loving Kindness meditation because it fosters compassion toward others and, most importantly, toward ourselves. Ending walks with this meditation makes me more open and loving toward myself and others.
Walking mindfully does not require a significant amount of time. The time you may spend walking mindfully is up to you. Furthermore, from my understanding of Mindfulness, it is a practice of non-judgment of our inner experiences and fostering a relationship with our thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
Whether you are practicing mindfulness while meditating, eating, or walking, you will likely notice yourself getting distracted by things about your day, work, kids, past events, etc., at some point, which is okay. When you notice you are no longer focusing on your breathing or sensing, remind yourself to regain focus without judgement that you lost focus in the first place.
Other Mindfulness Opportunities
If walking is not an option due to possible limitations, you can follow the same steps outlined above while lying in bed, sitting in a chair, or, if using the assistance of a wheelchair. When I have done this sitting in a chair somewhere, it is interesting to notice what my senses pick up.
We can also practice Mindfulness if we are living with seeing or hearing impairments. Whichever senses we may have access to is great. We often overlook our physical sensations; that is, feeling anxiety in our stomach feels like our stomach is knotted up; maybe we live with chronic back pain, and it feels like pin needles.
This mindful practice can be an opportunity to allow ourselves to experience everything we may be experiencing in a given moment, including our bodily sensations, without judgment.
Ultimately, the benefit of practicing Mindfulness, to me, is fostering my curiosity about who I am, as well as learning to tolerate difficult experiences without over-identifying with them.
Need help practicing mindfulness or improving your mental health? We’re always here for you. To speak with one of our licensed mental health professionals, please contact us.
Judson, B. (2021). Unwinding anxiety: New science shows how to break the cycles of worry and fear and to heal your mind. New York: Penguin.
Bessel V. D. K. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin.