How to Make Mindfulness More Accessible
According to News in Health, mindfulness-based treatments have been proven to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep. Mindfulness in general can be a daunting subject as many tend to pigeonhole the practice solely into the idea of meditation and having a blank, uninterrupted mind. The idea of meditation can push people away especially when the exercise does not come easily; however, mindfulness can be way more accessible and used in a variety of ways. The practice of mindfulness includes the following: observing; describing; and participating, all in a nonjudgmental, one-minded, and effective manner. Nearly any activity can become mindfully focused when entering the situation with intention. Here are six tips to ensure a successful mindfulness walk.
When embarking on your mindfulness walk counting can be a useful tool to fully immerse yourself within the experience. If your street is loaded with cars, then count how many are blue, and separately, count how many are the same shade of blue. Count how many steps it takes to get to the next stop sign or alternatively how many strides it requires to reach the next crack in the sidewalk. When counting car colors, try to avoid determining which shade of blue you consider to be most beautiful or entirely heinous, rather the task is simply counting. When tracking steps do not attempt to judge your cadence by speeding up or slowing down to reach a certain number of steps, simply put one foot in front of the other and count each placement on the pavement.
Take the time to notice your surroundings and the nature that envelops you. Notice the variety of plants you walk by. Are there more bushes than trees? Are the insects gathering around a particular type of plant or more so strewn about? Notice art and creativity within your environment and discern the difference between yard displays on this street versus the next street over or from house to house. Do not insert opinions or judgments here such as “I don’t like that flower” or “that garden gnome is not my taste.” Rather, notice the existence of that flower or that garden gnome.
Acknowledge the internal and external features and sensations of your body. Feel where the sun hits your skin and what that feels like or alternatively, in the wintertime, acknowledge which parts of your body feel most cold. Feel the way each foot hits the ground as you stride and what parts of your foot touch the pavement first in this specific pair of shoes. Acknowledge and experiment with whether your arms sway by your sides more quickly with greater speeds of walking. Breathing patterns can influence the way we feel internally and mentally. Therefore, acknowledge the impact it has on your body to breathe normally and, alternatively, in a more rhythmic and calculated way. Attempt to refrain from regretting your clothing choice because you are too hot or too cold and instead acknowledge your body temperature and accept that these are the garments you are wearing.
Depending on your geographic location, the level of noise you encounter can vary. Mindfulness practices frequently involve the engagement of your five senses and using your ears can be most beneficial. Listen to the way the leaves rustle in the wind based on the strength of the blow. Distinguish between the difference in the pitch of a bark coming from a small-sized versus a larger dog. If you live in a quieter, perhaps more suburban area, listen for the different chirps coming from various birds or hear the stillness of the environment. As you are counting your steps, listen to the way your foot hits the ground as you walk faster or slower. Does the noise you hear change?
If mindfulness walks become a frequent occurrence, begin to recognize changes within your environment. Did this flower bloom just today or did the leaves happen to change colors on this particular tree? Recognize the route you choose to take and consider changing it up. If there is a home under construction on your route, recognize what has improved, been mended, or newly demolished. With each person that you pass, recognize something about them, whether it be the style in which they are wearing their hair or the design on their t-shirt.
6. Pay Attention:
Because you are outdoors, there is likely to be a great deal of animal activity to witness, even from your own dog that you are walking. Pay attention to how many different animals you see and perhaps the way they interact with or avoid one another. Pay attention if you see bugs gather in swarms and if they’re huddling around something stinky and low to the ground or if you’re walking straight through a cloud of tiny gnats. Dogs use their noses to learn about their environments so pay attention to where their snout points and if they stop by particularly dry patches of grass or if they are a stereotypical dog sniffing fire hydrants. Discover what types of birds you see and pay attention to how close you can get to them before they break away.
Any walk you take, whether it be in an office space, in an airport terminal, or within your own neighborhood, can turn into a mindfulness walk. You are invited to expand the way you view mindfulness to make the practice of it less daunting and more appealing. Counting, noticing, acknowledging, listening, recognizing, and paying attention can all help you in being the most successful during your walk. If you feel your mind wandering off onto an interaction you had earlier or a meeting you have later, simply acknowledge the presence of this thought and intentionally shift your focus back to observing your walk, in the here and now. Small bits of mindfulness practice on a regular basis makes it easier to employ when you need it most.
Article written by Jillian Ross, LCSW