By Zoe Graman. See her amazing work here.
You may be familiar with mindfulness meditation — a seated practice that involves conscious awareness of the breath to quiet the mind, reduce stress, and deepen your connection to internal peace — but have you ever tried walking meditation?
Walking meditation is “meditation and mindfulness in action.” It takes the practice of mindfulness off of the cushion or chair and out into the world. The best part is, it doesn’t require any equipment, or set time in your schedule — you can practice it any time you are taking steps! Whether on a 30 minute walk for exercise, or walking across the parking lot from your car to the office, each step can be an opportunity to center yourself and improve your health.
The premise is quite simple — as you walk, be intentional with your steps, and try to remain aware of every little movement involved in the act of walking. Notice each time one foot, and then the other, rises and touches the ground. Feel into the sensations in your feet throughout this process: the pace of your steps, the feelings in your toes, the natural rise and fall of your breath. Awareness of each of these components combines to create a rich sensory experience that ties you to the present moment. For further instruction on walking meditation, check out this blog post with an excerpt from the writings of the master himself, Thich Naht Hanh.
A meditation practice has been shown to improve quality of life in many ways. Taking the time to focus on your breath and tune into your present moment experience on a consistent basis can have lasting positive effects on your health. Some benefits of mindfulness meditation include:
Reduced stress levels
Long-term activation of our body’s stress response system can lead to a whole host of health issues. Practicing mindfulness is a powerful way to reduce stress in the body. Over time, these reduced stress levels can lead to improvements in physical health, like lower blood pressure.
Increased positive emotions
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation reduces negative emotions and stress, while increasing positive emotions. One study suggests it may even be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression.
Better quality of sleep
Lower levels of stress and increased relaxation help ease the body into a more restful and rejuvenating sleep.
The practice of mindfulness helps us tune out distractions and zero-in more clearly on the tasks at hand in the present moment. This enhances our attention span and improves our focus.
In several studies, mindfulness has been shown to change the grey matter structure of our brains, increasing its density. Grey matter includes regions of the brain that govern some of our most fundamental abilities as humans, including learning, memory, emotion regulation, and empathy.
Increased immune function
Practicing mindfulness can actually improve your body’s ability to fight off illness! The reduced stress and enhanced non-reactivity that come from a consistent meditation practice have also been shown to make symptoms more manageable for those suffering with chronic or terminal illness.
Enhanced health behaviors
Engaging in a regular meditation practice can lead to better health habits, like mindful eating, getting regular check-ups, and avoiding nicotine and alcohol. When you make a regular practice out of tuning into your body, it is very likely that over time, you’ll naturally want to treat it better.
We all know that engaging in physical activity is a fundamental part of living a healthy life. Walking as a form of exercise has an incredible list of health benefits that you’re probably familiar with, including:
- Increased blood circulation
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Increased endorphin levels
- Stronger bones and muscles
- Increased metabolism
- Improved balance and coordination
- Reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
Combining the benefits of walking with the benefits of mindfulness into a walking meditation practice is an ideal way to supercharge your health. Each time you engage with mindful walking, you’re improving your health long-term, while making progress to reach your step tracking goals. It’s a win-win for your body and your mind!
Zoe is a coach and HR consultant supporting individuals and teams to enhance their communication, connection, and effectiveness, both in work and in life.