You know that a brisk walk around the block can clear your head. But it can do even more. Walking rivals yoga, meditation, and tai chi as a powerful mindfulness practice, says Danny Dreyer, a running coach, ultramarathoner, and creator of the ChiRunning and ChiWalking programs. Dreyer has spent years teaching people how to use walking to relieve physical and mental stress by moving in a relaxed way and focusing on physical sensations.
In the following exercise, Dreyer shows how to elevate a simple walk to a meditation in motion, just by using breath and awareness to target tension and trigger the body's relaxation response. Try this simple stress reliever before an important meeting, after a workday, or any time you need to recapture a calmer, more centered state of mind.
Find a Quiet Place
Choose to walk somewhere soothing -- around a lake instead of along a busy road, for instance.
Tip: Don't rush. Your goal here is to unwind, not to break a sweat or clock in miles. Do your best to maintain an easy gait.
Keep your pace comfortable (as if you don't need to get anywhere fast) and your stride short.
Breathe Away Tension
Start with your head and observe any tension you might be feeling there. Take a deep inhale, and then with each exhale, imagine releasing tightness in your head and neck. Continue with your shoulders, arms, chest, belly, glutes, upper legs, lower legs, and feet. Spend several breaths on each area, gradually inviting every part of your body to relax. Repeat this exercise.
Take Time to Unwind
Walk for at least 15 minutes, or longer if you have time.
Tip: Focus on tension hot spots throughout your body; this will help you open up and unwind.
Text by Kate Hanley; photography by John-Francis Bourke