A regular walk can be an important part of your fitness routine, but it’s also a proven mood-lifter and antidote to stress. “It’s hard to see any downside to walking—it’s great exercise and it clears your mind,” says David Dillard-Wright, author of Meditation for Multitaskers: Your Guide to Finding the Peace Between the Pings. “You can turn any walk into a meditation.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or you’ve just been looking to experiment with meditation, try one of these exercises on your next stroll.
1. Be observant. No matter where you choose to walk—in a park or on a trail, through your neighborhood or on a busy city street—one way to meditate is simply to take in the details of your surroundings. Walk slowly, and use your senses to notice the sights, sounds and smells of the setting. Prioritize these observations over any other thoughts that come into your mind, like what you’re going to have for dinner when you get home, or what emails might be waiting for you. Gently push those to the side and bring your brain back to where you are. “It’s a difference in attitude—instead of trying to get somewhere, it’s about being present where you are,” Dillard-Wright says.
2. Count your steps. This is a very basic meditation that is often recommended for beginners. It can also be done at any pace, so it’s ideal if you are looking to get a little more cardio out of your walk. As you walk, count each step as your foot touches the ground. Don’t try to force yourself into a regular rhythm; just observe how many steps you are taking. “Pretend someone is going to be quizzing you on how many steps you walked,” says David Harp, author of Mindfulness to Go: How to Meditate While You’re On the Move. “That forces you to stay very focused.”
You can also try variations, like counting in sets of 4, or 10. You can practice deep meditative breathing, and count how many steps you take while you’re inhaling, and then how many you take as you breathe out.
3. Reflect on words. Meditating with words is a good way to customize your walk to suit your mood, or the state of mind you’d like to end your stroll in. Dr. Andrew Weil, a longtime proponent of both walking and meditation for good health, suggests choosing a single word like “balance,” “clarity” or “strength” and reflecting only on that word for the duration of your walk. Choose one that has a desirable quality to you or that you’d like to emulate, and repeat it over and over in your mind.
You can also choose a mantra or very short prayer to repeat on your walk. It can be a phrase that is familiar and has meaning to you, such as “Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” Or you can choose a traditional mantra in a different language, like “om, shanti, shanti, shanti” (which translates to “peace”). Whatever you choose, keep it simple and repetitive.
“Every major tradition in the world has mantras—and there are secular ones as well,” says Dillard-Wright. “Pick one that you feel like speaks directly to you.”