You probably already know about the benefits of meditation. It can do everything from reduce stress levels to promote better sleep. What you might not know is that it can actually enhance your workout.
“Often when we exercise, we fall into autopilot and are oblivious to our surroundings and what’s happening within,” explains Tamara Levitt, Head of Mindfulness at Calm. “Bringing mindfulness to our activities helps us wake up and pay attention.”
Sounds and smells are sharper; colors are brighter.
Essentially, exercising mindfully can help you notice things you wouldn’t otherwise. “Sounds and smells are sharper; colors are brighter. You tune into your body in a whole new way,” Levitt says.
Plus, it really helps you zero in on the mind-body connection. “When you exercise and your mind and body are synchronized, you are more aware of how your body feels,” she points out. “If you’re watching television or talking on the phone while running or doing yoga, you are less able to deeply tune into sensory awareness, and therefore, less cognizant of your limitations.” When you’re exercising mindfully, you’re much less likely to get injured, she adds.
Lastly, being present and aware can improve your workout quality overall. “Generally, the more present we are the better workouts we have!”
WHY WALKING & MEDITATING?
While a moving meditation can be done during any type of cardio workout, walking is a great place to start because you can move slowly, according to Levitt. “This offers you a chance to really notice your environment and tune into sensation. The idea is to remain open and aware of your surroundings from moment to moment. It’s a lovely practice to tune in to the exquisite, intricate beauty of nature: observing the colors, movements, textures, shapes and patterns.”
Additionally, it’s a lot easier to learn moving meditation when you’re doing something that comes naturally and easily. “Walking, especially outdoors, is well-suited to meditation because there is less coordination to worry about versus rowing or running at a fast pace,” notes Mar Soraparu, yoga instructor at Studio Three in Chicago. Once you’ve mastered the technique with walking, you can translate it easily into other types of rhythmic cardio, like running, rowing and cycling.
There’s no one way to turn your walk into a meditation, but the key is to purposefully hone in on various aspects of your walk — your body, your surroundings, the sensations you’re feeling — and mindfully explore them. Similarly, there’s no specific amount of time you should have as a goal, but experts recommend starting with five minutes out of your normal walking time, and then working your way up.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Here are some ideas to try for yourself:
TUNE INTO YOUR BODY
“Bring awareness to each step you take,” Levitt suggests. “Feel fully through the toes, feet and legs as you lift them, move them through the air and place them on the ground. You’ll probably be surprised to notice how many parts are involved in taking just one step. The slower you walk, the more sensations you’ll likely notice, but if you’re walking swiftly, you can still bring lots of mindfulness to your gait.”
FEEL YOUR ENVIRONMENT
“Once you’ve spent some time initially focusing on body sensations, expand your attention to other tactile sensations such as the temperature of the air, the hardness or softness of the ground and how the sun feels as it beats down on your skin,” Levitt says.
FOCUS ON YOUR BREATH
“Begin on focusing on your breathing,” Soraparu says. “Count your inhales and exhales to the count of four. Work your way up to as high of a count as you can manage without forcing too much breath.” Then, work your way back down.
LISTEN TO YOUR SURROUNDINGS
“Pay attention to the sounds that you hear around you,” recommends Toby Sola, co-founder and chief product officer at Brightmind. “This can be fun because often we walk in places with interesting sounds, like cities or parks. There’s a lot going on, and it can be interesting to pay attention to that. As you pay attention to sounds, ask, what exactly are you hearing? What direction are sounds coming from? Are they near or far away? Are the sounds getting louder or softer? Just try to notice as many details as you can.”
TELL YOURSELF A STORY
“Start to notice your surroundings and use a narration technique,” Soraparu suggests. “Tell yourself what you are seeing and notice what kind of thoughts arise as you endure this practice. The thoughts that come up will tell you something about yourself.”
Like any new skill, learning walking meditation takes a little practice. For your first few sessions, Levitt recommends heading somewhere scenic where you can walk slowly and not worry about traffic or needing to rush. “Walk simply for the sake of walking,” she says.
While city streets can provide a lot of opportunities for mindful observation (people talking, sirens, dogs barking, etc.), they can be challenging for beginners. If your only option is the city, though, you can make it work to your advantage. “What’s important to understand is that no sounds are good or bad, right or wrong,” Levitt says. “We aren’t trying to shut anything out, rather, we are making efforts to allow for everything that arises and simply bring awareness to what’s happening from moment to moment.”
Another option is to start in stillness to get your meditation going. “Before you walk, practice meditating while sitting or standing,” Sola recommends. “Then, once you get some momentum going, you can transition into walking. That can make it easier to concentrate.”
Lastly, it’s a good idea to power down during your meditation. “Turn your phone off and also try to walk solo,” Soraparu says. “When thoughts come into your mind that are away from your focused breath or narration practice, simply acknowledge the thoughts and drift back to your focus. You will get back to it when you are able.”
Above all, remember meditation is a practice that can’t be perfected. “Every day we face new challenges, emotional states and time constraints,” Soraparu says. Practice moving meditation whenever and however you want.