The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 is ‘Nature’ – highlighting the powerful connection between our mental health and wellbeing and the natural world.
If you’re looking for a new way to connect with nature, why not try mindful walking?
Below, Course Lead Angela Bagum outlines her own experience of the practice, and provides some tips for getting started. Then, some first-time mindful walkers share their impressions.
Why try mindful walking? Angela’s story:
“For the last six years, I have been engaging in mindful walking. This is something I did initially as part of a Mindfulness course, but I did not integrate it into my daily life until much later. I found myself changing my commute to work, so that I would have to walk through a park on the way there and back. At first, I changed my route because I enjoyed the park, but I started to notice that I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and less stress while walking through that space – like an intuitive response to my own health and wellbeing.
My interpretation of mindful walking has meant being open to what is around me, noticing my breath in the moment, making a conscious effort to feel my stride, and focusing on the colours, feelings, textures and scents in my environment. Sometimes, just being aware of different trees – knowing they are alive – makes me smile, aware that underneath the ground, their deep roots are supporting other trees like a community network, helping each other out. At times, I feel like I am bathing in water, in tune with the elements of the earth. At other times, the patterns and cycles seen in nature serve to remind me that situations and feelings of difficulty can, and do, move on.
Mindful walking can feel like a type of cleansing or restoring of vitality. I later learnt about the Japanese concept of “Shinrin-Yoku”, meaning “forest bath” or forest bathing: the practice of taking in the forest, and immersing yourself in its atmosphere, using the five senses. Of course, there are times when it feels impossible to do any mindful walking or forest bathing…. But just being in the presence of nature is where it starts.”
Getting started – Tips for mindful walking:
1. First, it’s important to know that you can practice Mindful Walking wherever you are, as long as you’re in the presence of nature – whether in a park, on a quiet street, in a wood or on a beach… Just start walking!
2. Try to focus on your surroundings and what you experience in the moment, being conscious and present. What can you see and hear? What can you smell, feel and taste? How does your body feel as you move?
3. Take your time and notice your breathing – you could try taking longer breaths than usual or slowing your stride, and you could even pause for a few moments in a particular spot. Resist the urge to check your phone, and instead focus on the here and now, engaging all your senses.
4. Check in with yourself and how you are feeling, and be open to other thoughts that may come to mind – allow them to come and go, knowing that you will come back to them later. Focusing on your breath can help here, as well as the feeling of your feet as they touch the ground – a literal ‘grounding experience’.
Trying mindful walking for the first time?
We asked members of our Digital Academy team to have a go at mindful walking for the first time – below they share how they got on!
“Being in the moment when walking sounds like such a simple thing – I thought it was what I did anyway! But when I set out on my mindful walk, my mind was buzzing with thoughts and plans about upcoming meetings, deadlines, things I hadn’t done, what to cook later, and a million other worries and distractions. As I walked I found it really helpful to relax my attention on all those thoughts, acknowledge they were there, and gently shift my focus to my immediate senses – my breathing, the brush of my hands against material, the feel of my foot in its boot. Our walk took us across a field on top of a hill and here I felt the wind blustering past my ears, and watched it swirling through the grass. I heard skylarks warbling somewhere overhead, and saw the shadows of red kites gliding high in the sky. I can’t say I was always in the present on my mindful walk, but it helped setting out with mindfulness in mind, and I’m sure I’ll get better with practice!”
“The idea of mindful walking really appealed to me as I’m a planner by nature, a frequent overthinker and a lover of to-do lists. So, the chance to step out of that zone caught my attention as I’ve become more aware of the need to refresh and unplug from time to time. Where I live isn’t exactly immersed in ‘nature’ but it is, of course, all around us, so my circular walk was focused on looking at little details around me, rather than thinking of the destination or the next item on my list. It was strangely, deeply pleasing to see the magpie on the nearby rooftop, the cat padding along the pavement, the spirals and patterns in the trees and telegraph poles, the odd patches of silence amid the chatter. I didn’t focus too much on where I was going, which I think helped to slow down the cogs. Occasionally I did find myself dwelling on the jobs I had to do when I got home but a few seconds of slower breathing and reassuring myself that those things could wait was enough to return to calm. I enjoyed the opportunity to just walk and observe, with no other reason or objective than to relax and return home at the end of it. It’s always good to get a few steps in, too!”
“Although I was intrigued by Angela’s description of Mindful Walking, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it work for me – I have a famously low attention span, and am always trying to do multiple things at once. I decided to take my usual walk to a local park, and then set aside 20 minutes to have a go. I started by taking some deep breaths, and slowing my pace to something a bit more leisurely. I tried to take in everything that was going on around me, and thought about each sense in turn – some were easier to engage with than others, but I found myself spotting things that I’d never have noticed on a usual walk. Overall, two things really struck me – first, how uplifting it is to look upwards. You can’t help but feel more positive! Second, how freeing it was, when an item on my “to do” list or a niggling worry popped into my head, to say to myself “I’m not going to think about that now”, and turn my attention back to something in front of me – it actually really helped to concentrate on my footsteps when I felt myself getting distracted, as Angela had suggested. This feels something I could cultivate more with time, so I’ll definitely be trying it again.”
Interested in finding out more?
If you’d like to build the knowledge and skills to support your own and others’ mental health and wellbeing, our introductory ‘Working Towards Wellbeing’ Mini Courses may be for you.
- Maintaining Hope in Uncertain Times
- The Resilient Workplace
- Trauma, Self-Care and Caring for Others
- Leadership, Followership and Mental Health
To discuss group bookings for your team or organisation, please get in touch with us by emailing DigitalAcademy@tavi-port.ac.uk.