Mindful walking: what it is and what benefits it can bring

Mindful walking: what it is and what benefits it can bring

Publication date: 15-09-2023

Updated on: 15-09-2023

Topic: Mental health

Estimated reading time: 1 min

We rarely walk just to walk: we usually do it to get somewhere, and as a result, the mind can be absorbed in thinking about where we are going, what we are going to do there, who we are going to meet... in this way, we spend most of our time brooding about the past or thinking about the future, forgetting to live in the present. In just such cases, Mindfulness, a technique that adopts a series of strategies to increase one's ability to control one's mind, in which the important thing is to focus on the path, not the goal, can come to our aid.

What is mindful walking and what benefits does it bring? We asked Dr. Giulia Gialdi, a psychologist at the Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy Service of Ospedale San Raffaele Turro, directed by Prof. Andrea Fossati.

What it is and what it is for?

Mindfulness is a technique that, through simple concentration exercises, allows us to become accustomed to rejecting the flow of unnecessary thoughts, which deprive us of energy by taking us away from the moment we are living, from the “hic et nunc,” which can be applied to any activity, even walking. 

In mindful walking, the goal of the walk is not the goal, but awareness of the present moment. In this way, we can really experience it fully, moving away from those thoughts that cause the brooding resulting in anxiety and stress. 

What are the benefits

Mindful walking, especially when practiced in nature, brings important benefits:

  • it is very effective in reducing stress and anxiety;
  • it helps us face complex moments with more clarity. 

The main advantage, of course, is that we can practice it all the time: at home, on the way to work, in nature; it is a real opportunity to interrupt the “autopilot” with which we live much of our day. 

Mindful walking also provides an opportunity to exercise one's awareness, which is too often dulled because the mind tends to digress to unimportant thoughts and activities: by putting attention on the walk, one is able to capture the beauty of the present moment and surroundings. 

Mindful walking combines 2 important relaxation and wellness activities: movement and mindfulness, to combat anxiety and increase well-being and serenity. Paying attention to what you are doing here and now also enables you to achieve a state of mindful calm, the benefits of which radiate onto your daily activities. 

Even a daily practice of a few minutes a day is sufficient to observe the first benefits at the level of stress management.

How to get started?

At first, it is advisable to walk at a natural pace, placing your hands where you feel comfortable and at ease. Mindful walking involves the effort to bring mental presence, our attention to the movement of each foot, when: 

  • we lift it
  • we move it forward
  • we place it back on the ground for each step. 

It can also be done by associating breathing with each step: 

  • inhalation when lifting the foot;
  • exhalation when resting the foot, listening to the sensations felt. 

If you are struggling to figure out “where to start,” an effective and immediate solution might be to be guided by an audio: during practice, it will be normal for thoughts to wander a bit, so without frustration or judgment, it is important to take them back to where you want them. 

When this happens, it is important to stop, notice what has caught our attention and return with our minds to mindful walking without blaming ourselves. 

If we decide to practice mindful walking outdoors, we can try to keep a broader gaze on the environment around us, paying attention to sounds, colors, and scents felt. 

Again, the goal is to notice what we sense with our senses, without labeling or judging whether what we sense is pleasant or unpleasant.

The goal is to stay in the present moment with awareness while the body is walking: in that moment there is nothing to do, nothing to adjust, nothing to change.

Useful tips

Since mindful walking can be practiced all the time, we can associate it with any activity, but one thing is always important: focus on what you are doing without judgment. 

Precisely because it is possible to take advantage of any time of day, it can be helpful to establish a routine, whether it is in the morning or in the evening, so that you can incorporate this practice into your daily routine. 

As the summer season approaches, and having the opportunity, it is preferable to take the time to walk in nature: at the beach, in the countryside, in a forest or park; any natural environment offers more opportunities to connect with what surrounds us, leading more quickly to a state of inner meditation, to stay focused on the rhythm of one's steps, without being distracted by the stimuli of everyday life. 

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