Health&Wellness Magazine May 2016 - Page 12

INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE 12 & May 2016 | Read this issue and more at | –COLUMN PROVIDED BY– Like us @healthykentucky Mind Body Studio 859.373.0033 | 517 Southland Drive, Lexington Mindful Walking: Walking Meditation By John A. Patterson MD, MSPH, FAAFP “Walking on the Earth is a miracle.” “Peace is every step.” – Thich Nhat Hanh Research suggests walking for exercise has significant physical, mental and emotional benefits. Brisk walking seems to offer similar benefits as more intense running when it comes to managing several risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including stress, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, overweight and diabetes. Walking as little as 30 minutes a day may improve your heart health. Life expectancy may increase by two hours for every hour of brisk walking. But some people are physically unable to walk briskly and others find fitness walking monotonous and boring. However, if you can walk, you can practice mindful walking, also known as walking meditation. Less is known about the health benefits of mindful walking, but empirical evidence over the centuries from many cultures and tradi- tions support its use as part of a contemplative and healthy lifestyle. As with other mindful meditative practices, walking meditation helps develop mindfulness in everyday life. Training the mind to pay attention when you are physically moving with open eyes can help you bring mindfulness to everything else in your life at home, at work, in traffic and simply being with yourself. Mindful awareness can begin to inform your entire life. Mindful walking can help you connect to your inner sense of peace and calm, manage stress, increase spontaneity and enhance mental focus, creativity and problem solving. It can also help you feel more resilient in the face of anxiety, worry, fear, anger, confusion, agitation, obsessive thoughts, rumination, grief, depression and pain. The formal practice of mindful walking cultivates an alert, aware engagement with your life as it is unfolding right there in that present moment, right there in that place, wherever you are. Walking meditation trains your mind to skillfully cultivate wakefulness and awareness, increasing the sense of mindfulness in everyday activities. Routine daily habits can begin to feel richer, more three-dimensional, more multi-colored than black and white. A deeper sense of gratitude can begin to grow in your life. Interestingly, you may not be the first one to be aware of these changes in your life. Those you live and work with may notice them before you do as your daily life itself becomes an experience of conscious, intentional, mindful living. Walking meditation is easy to incorporate into daily routines. You can carve out dedicated time for formal mindful walking or informally bring mindfulness to any walking you do, especially if you are walking toward a potentially stressful experience or communication. Mindfully walking and connecting to your inner sense of calmness, peacefulness and confidence can even disarm those who might otherwise behave as adversaries or antagonists. You may find mindful walking more relaxing than other forms of meditation, especially if your mind is particularly churned up. At those times, walking meditation can be relaxing in a way that sitting meditation may not. Paradoxically, at times when your mind feels dull, lethargic or sleepy, walking practice may increase alertness and energy. Many people prefer walking outdoors over indoor exercise machines or gym tracks. Some studies suggest that, compared to those who exercise indoors, those who exercise outdoors enjoy it more and score higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem and lower on tension, depression and fatigue. As you walk mindfully outdoors, you can intentionally direct your attention to the physical sensations in your body – feeling your feet touching the Earth, feeling your heel landing, feeling the weight transferring to the ball of the foot, feeling the foot lifting and moving through the air and landing again on the heel. Bring special attention to the breath coming into the body and leaving the body, feeling the air at the nostrils, the movement of the chest and the movement of the belly. You can feel your clothing moving against your skin, the air touching your skin, the movement of your arms, legs, muscles and joints. You can also attend more expansively to the