Walking Is Meditation in Motion

Spirited walking can soothe a frayed mind

Medically reviewed in December 2021

"Spirited walking" means finding a connection with something bigger than yourself -- and you can do that while walking. Some people say it's Mother Nature, it's God, it's the spirit of life. Whatever "it" is for you, anytime you find a connection with it, you're having a spirited and spiritual experience. There's a high that comes from combining walking and mindfulness. I wrote The Spirited Walker because I wanted to spread the word about the kind of peace, quiet, and stress release that comes from shutting out everything else, even for 5 minutes. It's like meditating in motion.

How to do it: Walk by yourself in silence, then:

1. Focus on the in and the out. Start by simply saying "in" and then "out" with your steps . . . it puts your mind in a sort of relaxing trance. I still do it every single time I start a walk. One step, in; next step, out. The rhythmic pattern tunes you in to what your body is doing.

2. Then, count it out. Add counting and breathing to your pattern: Breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of four. This takes more concentration because we're not used to breathing in and out equally. Concentrating keeps you in the moment, which prevents your mind from wandering and worrying about everything else.

3. Do a sensory scan. For a full minute, focus on what you're seeing, smelling, hearing, and even feeling under your feet. If you feel the wind on your face or hear the birds flying overhead -- focus on those sensations. If your mind wanders, don't worry. If you smell coffee from someone's kitchen, and it reminds you that you need to buy some, simply tell your mind, "Thank you very much," and go back to smelling the coffee, not starting a grocery list. This helps you practice being tuned in to what's around you. It makes you present and focuses or releases all the thoughts rattling in your head, so you get some mental peace.

Why you don't need to slow down. Both spirited walking and speed walking (I have bronze and silver medals from the USA Masters Track & Field National Championships in speed walking) work WITH your body. When I started doing speed-walking races in my 40s, I had to stop the negative talk in my head ("You're not going fast enough; you're not doing it right.") in order to win. It turned out to be about making an alliance with my mind and my body instead of trying to control them.

No time? Try a "5-Minute Miracle Walk." That's a brisk walk around the block. If I'm reaching a point of tension in my body or of fear in my spirit -- some sort of mini crisis -- I go out for what I call a 5-Minute Miracle Walk. Instead of reaching for a glass of wine or scanning the fridge for something to eat, I walk. It doesn't make the problem go away, but it helps, because I come back with a dose of fresh air and clarity. Sometimes I do the Miracle Walk several times a day.

My favorite walk of all time. It was in the Lake District in England, home of the Romantic poets (Wordsworth, living in the 1800s, seemed to have thought nothing of walking for 6 hours to visit a friend). It's rugged and harsh, yet astonishingly beautiful. That pleasure in movement and creative meditation of long walks is probably what I also find in the Lake District some 200 years later.

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