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Mindful walking, wherever you live

For many of us, walking was simply about getting from A to B. It was a necessity. So with head down and a mind-full of to-dos, we’d set off for our destination. The act of ‘taking a walk’ was something we might reserve for a Sunday in the countryside or a holiday coastal walk.

Since Covid-19 appeared and we were all forced indoors, the basic walk has switched to something new – well actually, it’s reverted back to something old, like it used to be. A simple walk to take in the air, refresh and revive.

We now need that walk more than ever. It is a respite in an otherwise isolated life. We are now allowed some daily exercise, and those of us who are regularly taking it are appreciating it’s importance in maintaining and improving our mental health.

So where does your walk take you? No doubt, around the block, maybe a few roads further or to a local park or water way, but definitely still within your own postcode. This might be enough for us right now but will this locality become boring? Country or city, will there be enough variety to keep our minds happy?

We’ve been practising mindful walking with our children. It’s not actually something we decided to do but something that just seemed to occur naturally, as we practise mindfulness anyway.

What is mindfulness?

For those who are unfamiliar with mindfulness, it’s simply the art of living in the moment; using all your senses to experience the world around you. By focusing on the present and not worrying about the past or future, we learn to enjoy what we have right now, because really that is all we have!

Mindful walking is about becoming the observer and noticing things you would otherwise miss, if you were on your phone, daydreaming or processing what might happen next.

With mindful walking, you might know where you’re going, or you might simply see where the wind blows you. Just take in the things that you can see, smell, hear, feel and taste.

Yes, your sight will be sense No.1, but could you walk or sit and take in the world without using your eyes, if even only briefly? Our children love to close their eyes and listen for the quietest sounds. Birds, cars, we even heard a train from miles away yesterday.

You could ask yourself how your body feels? Are you feeling any strong emotions or discomfort?

Take time to breathe slowly and deeply, and feel your chest rising as your lungs fill with air. Notice the sensation of the cold air entering your nose and the warm air leaving it. Feel the weight of your feet on the ground and focus on enjoying the movement of your arms and legs.

The experience really is what you make it. No one will even notice that you’re doing it, but you’ll probably look like you’re having a lovely time.

If your local area is far from ‘beautiful’, try to find the beauty in the detail. Look above the shops windows - you could spot something from yesteryear. Look along the cracks in the pavement - even weeds are pretty - or see the difference and similarities in the buildings you pass.

Of course, you don’t have to focus on beauty. Simply focussing on small details is enough to help us remember that every little thing has a story and its place in the world.

We are undeniably bound to our homes, and the walks we take should be purposeful and not flout the government’s advice. I’m sure the last thing the police want to do is issue fines.

Whether we are taking a quick turn around the block or a longer walk through local woods, we have the opportunity to make the most of this small blessing.

I’ve thought of a few options below and ways to make them mindful . . .

The familiar walk: Notice the small changes that are taking place in a locality that is familiar to us. We’ve recently enjoyed watching the leaf buds and catkins bursting on the trees along our road, though that’s not been so good for my hay fever! We involve our children in noticing these small changes, each of us choosing a different day on which we think the leaves will open or blossoms appear. We quickly found that our children would instigate the conversation when we passed that same spot each day.

The destination walk: In any other scenario, I’d be recommending going to a landmark to take in the awe of its scale, beauty or wonder. We now need to replace our National Heritage landmark destinations with local landmarks.

I’ve looked online to see if there are any interesting buildings or places of historical importance nearby. You might be surprised by places of interest where you live. The local building may no longer be in use - hey, it’s probably been turned into flats - but you could research online to discover what it used to look like and see if you can spot any original features. There are so many learning opportunities here, whatever your age. Of course, please don’t linger. This is just a learning opportunity that needs to be carried out with respect for the lockdown rules.

The adventure walk: Take a route and discover new pathways or areas within a park that you haven’t seen or explored before. One day we’d be scooting down an avenue of lime trees in our park; the next we’d be climbing trees.

We find the mindful walk is perfect for a family activity after lunch when the little one has woken from her nap. This time of day could easily be deemed the graveyard slot when meals are being digested, you’re all tired and might be tempted to automatically reach for the TV controller.

It is also valuable when we need a screen break from work. Just a few minutes of mindful walking, where we mindfully switch off from jobs and deadlines, is often the refreshment we need. It helps to prevent the overload that comes from working for so long that we become unproductive and unmotivated. Going out gives us a sense of accomplishment, while stimulating the endorphins that we all need to maintain healthy hormone levels, life balance and generally happy vibes.

I will emphasise again that I’m not advocating journeying beyond your local area or staying out longer than an hour. I am simply encouraging you to build mindful walking into your daily exercise and provide learning opportunities for your children, to investigate what’s on your doorstep, with a new mindful eye and peaceful mindset.

I know first hand the benefits of mindfulness on mine and my children’s mental health and wellbeing. Now is the time to enjoy the changes and promise of a new season, so whether its rain or shine, try to find time in your day to do some mindful walking, jogging or family meandering.

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