“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Henry David Thoreau
Taking a walk***- it has become the top item on my list to do each day. It started out as exercise and has now become my exercise, thinking time, breather, restore session, stress reducer and creative idea cultivator.
Walking. How often do you go for a walk? What I mean is without distraction, by yourself, no ear buds, no texting– just walking in nature. (or if no nature, walking outside will be our minimum standard here.)
I am not an expert on walking, but as a means for simplifying your thoughts and life, I haven’t found anything better. I have learned a lot about walking over my years of doing it on purpose (not just as a way to get somewhere)- and I want to share some of it with you. I hope that it will inspire you to start your own habit of walking for your own reasons.
–Walking without doing anything else is SO healthy! It can help to restore your mental balance. Pay attention to your breath and breathe in nature, look around you and notice nature. Our brain takes in these sights and smells and they are very restoring. Google healthy gut micro biome- something we should all be paying attention to- and you will see that especially walking on dirt roads and paths is especially restorative for your overall health. No matter how fast you go. Nature restores. You can also google Forest Bathing- for more on the healthy goodness of walking.
–Speaking of speed, it is not about that. I have gradually picked up speed over the years and you likely will, too. Walk at a good clip to get cardio benefits or just saunter along and enjoy being out. I like a mixture of both. I mostly walk alone and just think. I walk faster or slower depending upon the time of day and how I am feeling.
–Go as far/long as you can. And build up. If I go for less than an hour these days, it is unusual. When I started walking it was about 30 minutes. But walking benefits are yours with even a 5-10 minute stroll. It is not all or nothing- always do what you can. Walking is something we can do every day, most of us, for our whole lives. It is just like anything else, though, the more you practice, the better you will get.
–Use an app– like the Nike Run Club free app- I love it! I love measuring my progress and this app is excellent- it even gives you awards which is awesome because then you can do something else I love to suggest you do- celebrate yourself! An app like this will help you to see how you are doing over time, set goals for yourself and even join a challenge with a huge community. I always do the weekly challenge (9.32 miles), and the 50k (31.06 miles) and 100k (62.13 miles) monthly challenges. It is fun to see how far I get.
–Walking can reduce stress. Just getting fresh air and moving your body when stress or frustration starts to creep in will help to diffuse and redirect your energy. Don’t be surprised if you solve your problems on your walk- this is one of my favorite reasons to walk alone- creative ideas, solutions- they all crop up during a walk. Set your mind on something on purpose to think about or just see what comes up.
-If you decide to see what comes up you can mentally play around with it or recognize thoughts and then intentionally let them go once you have recognized them. In this way you are not engaging in walking meditation. One of the best ways to meditate! You can also enter this zone by focusing on the trees, flowers, the dirt beneath your feet- any and all. Also, check out the free Insight Timer all where there are many walking meditations if you want to try one. Personally, I enjoy nature’s soundtrack the most!
My favorite walks are early morning in the woods and near a lake or pond. The peace and quiet just fills me up for the day ahead. I will walk any time of day, though, and have grown to love evening walks, as well. I have seen so much beauty because of this devotion I have developed. Beach walking is right up there among my most favorites, as well.
How does walking bring simplicity to my life? For me, it gives me a space, time, a pause to just be and to unravel the sometimes jumble of things to do, things going on in my head, all of the things I am working on figuring out. It helps me to bring some clarity to what is important in the moment. This makes a process that can seem to take a lot of effort- trying to figure things out- and distills to simplicity. The answers float around- no trying or forcing, just allowing.
Sometimes I like to bring my journal and sit down in a beautiful place at about half way through my walk to write a few pages, inspired by my surroundings. Another favorite walk is with my friend, most Saturday mornings before we attending a meeting- we park near our favorite coffee shop, walk 4 miles round trip and enjoy a little coffee, then on our way. This is one of the few times I walk with someone else and I enjoy it greatly. Mostly I love the solitude of my walks
Something magical happens on every walk- not always in the way of ideas, but also just seeing something or feeling something. I think this is true for me because, again, I am allowing and open to the magic. I welcome it and keep an eye out for it.
***As they say at the end of each episode of Brooklyn 99- “Not a doctor!” And I am not a doctor, so use common sense when you think about picking up your activity and consult your doctor if you have any question of your ability to become more active. If you are differently abled, think about what your version of “walk” would be- how can you adapt some of these ideas to suit your circumstances?