Open Your Senses to Spring with a Walking Meditation
Spring officially arrives March 20, and some parts of the United States have already experienced warm weather and blooming trees and flowers. The sun, warmth and fresh spring air beckon us to savor the moment and our lives through walking meditation.
Walking meditation, or mindful walking, is a joyful way to practice mindfulness with movement. It’s a way to quiet our minds when they are overflowing with thoughts of life and work by reconnecting with the present moment. It’s as simple as going for a walk and intentionally paying attention to your breathing, your movements and your surroundings.
Many of my business clients have embraced walking meditation because it provides an active way to incorporate mindfulness into their day, adding a walk outdoors to their lunch break, or going on a mindful walk in the morning – tuning into nature or your neighborhood as it wakes up to a new day.
If you’re a person who always wants to do things “right,” you can relax. There is no single “correct” way to do this form of moving meditation. You can walk at a very slow pace, concentrating on the movement of each foot and coordinating your breath. You can also walk at a regular pace, or even walk briskly. The idea is to choose a focus of attention, and when your mind wanders, just bring it back to your step, or wherever you decide to place your awareness.
Here are three ways to turn your walk into a walking meditation:
Begin with grounding. Bring your attention to your feet making contact with the ground. Reconnect with the stable feeling that the ground is always supporting you.
Focus your attention with each step. Mindful walking is about arriving, again and again, in each moment, by bringing your attention to your breathing and to your feet touching the ground. As with sitting meditation, your mind will wander, and you will become distracted, but you can always return your attention to each step.
Savor with the senses. Experience the world around you through each sense. What do you hear? What do you see- from architecture to colors and textures in nature? What hits your nose? Can you tune into sounds?
You can do a walking meditation anywhere, including indoors. However if you have a chance to walk outdoors such as in a park, you can enjoy the song of birds, the rustle of the breeze and the smells of spring while also noticing manmade parts of your environment. It’s about using your senses, opening your awareness, and savoring what’s around you.
Focusing on your senses grounds you to the present moment. Noticing smells, sights, and sounds trains your capacity to tune in to your surroundings. This effectively pulls you out of your head if you’re ruminating, daydreaming, or thinking about anything other than what’s happening in the moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), Zen master and poet, tells us to “kiss the earth” with each step. Connecting to nature with your senses and by moving with awareness and intention may become one of your favorite ways to be mindful. When we were on a family mindfulness retreat with Thay, he took our daughter by the hand during the morning walking meditation and showed her with his example that there is peace in every step when we walk with mindfulness.
Going on mindful walks is also a brilliant way to engage with kids. Children love it anytime adults are truly present and paying attention, sharing in their natural curiosity, wonder, and delight. That’s why I treasure our evening family walks. My daughter likes to choose one of the senses, such as smell; we then stroll the streets, bringing awareness to everything that hits our noses.
Try to observe your surroundings without getting lost in thoughts about what you’re observing. There’s a difference between noticing something and thinking about it. Can you simply see what is right there in front of you without your mind pivoting toward a stream of thoughts about what you are seeing? If something you see, hear or smell triggers thoughts or memories, notice your mind wandering and come right back to the sights, sounds and scents of the moment.
Pay attention to what you can discover in each season. In the spring, you may hear birds chirping, the whisper of the breeze or the shouts of kids playing. In the summer, you might smell blooming honeysuckle, hear distant thunder and feel the hot sun on your face. In fall, take in the colorful leaves and cool breezes. And taking a winter walk in newly fallen snow is a sensory experience like no other.
Whatever the season, use your mindfulness skills of attention and awareness, along with all five senses, to take in the richness life around you. Pause, refresh and reset your mind from rushing. You are exactly where you should be: right here, in the moment, fully alive.