The mental and physical merits of walking are well established, from helping ward off depression to preventing heart disease. Meditation, likewise, can help reduce anxiety symptoms and improve sleep quality. Have you ever considered combining these seemingly very different activities? Walking meditation, which doesn’t take much of an investment in time or money, can be a good stepping-off point for May’s Mental Health Month.
Walking meditation isn’t a stroll in the park or an hour in the lotus position, rather something in between. The goal is to be self-focused and mindful of your body in motion. To get started, consider these steps from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center:
- Find a place that’s relatively free of distractions and where other people won’t make you self-conscious. Your path – whether it’s a hiking trail or a little-used hallway – doesn’t have to be long; the whole point is to go nowhere, slowly.
- Relax your hands and arms, stand up straight, and take a few deep breaths. Take 10 to 15 small, deliberate steps, counting them in your head. Be mindful of the way your feet feel as they rise and land on the ground, weight shifting from heel to toes.
- If your mind wanders, try to push out extraneous thoughts and focus on your breathing or the sights and sounds of your surroundings.
- Pause for a breath, turn around and start again.
Why meditate in the first place? Meditation may help cancer patients by relieving their stress and fatigue. It may reduce blood pressure and alleviate some symptoms of menopause and IBS. There is also evidence that it improves the quality of life for female patients struggling with fibromyalgia by helping them deal with depression and conflict.
Meditation can be good for people of all ages. When college students added meditation to walking, they had lower levels of anxiety than when they merely walked for exercise, according to a study in the American Journal of Health Promotion. On the other end of the spectrum, a Journal of Alzheimer's Disease study found that meditation may help slow the cognitive decline that leads to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
As you take a moment to slow down and practice walking meditation, keep in mind that the results can also be slow. Studies have shown benefits after as little as 10 minutes per session, but most were based on practicing four to six days per week for several weeks.