What is mind-body walking?
Mind/body walking has been practiced for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. In the mid-1890s, naturalist Henry David Thoreau cautioned about the need for the spirit to be present when walking in the woods. He was practicing mind/body walking before the modern term was officially coined.
In the busy modern world, in which instant communication and overstimulation are the norm, mindful walking may be difficult to understand. However, mind/body walking requires that a person leave all interference and thoughts behind. Instead, the walker focuses on becoming connected mentally and physically.
Mindful walking does not look any different from regular walking. The legs move forward, one at a time, and the arms swing with each step. The movement exercises the entire body. Walking and allowing the mind to relax dissipate all physical and mental tension.
Walking is one of the best weight-bearing exercises. It stimulates bone growth, thereby strengthening bones. At the same time, walking tones muscles and enhances circulation, so all organs benefit.
Mindful walking allows a person to slow a hectic lifestyle and improve well-being. This simple exercise helps people maintain a healthy weight; lowers blood pressure; decreases low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, in the body; and increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol. Mindful walking also improves circulation and reduces stress and stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Walkers are calmer and sleep better at night. An added benefit is that mind/body walking enhances self-esteem and stimulates creativity.
Fitness professionals can teach methods to enhance mind/body walking and calm the mind. However, mind/body walking is most often self-taught. Like everything else, it takes practice to learn how to relax the mind and pay attention to the world. The only equipment needed is a good pair of supportive walking shoes and loose, comfortable clothing.
People new to walking should slowly build up their stamina. One should start with shorter walks, maybe ten to fifteen minutes, and walk on flat surfaces, then slowly build up to longer walks in hilly areas. Before taking a walk, it is important to first warm up the muscles by walking in place or in small circles. A warmup helps improve circulation and muscle elasticity; it also prevents injury. After a short warmup, it is important to stretch leg and arm muscles for a few minutes. After a brisk walk, a cool-down (walking in place) and a short stretch also will help prevent injuries and muscle cramping. When walking at night or early in the morning, one should wear light colors or reflective tape as a precautionary measure.
Baker, P. R., et al. “Community Wide Interventions for Increasing Physical Activity.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2011): CD008366.
Harp, David. Mindfulness to Go: How to Meditate While You’re on the Move. Oakland, Calif.: Harbinger, 2011.
Hölzel, B. K., et al. “Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Matter Density.” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging 191, no. 1 (2011): 36-43.