MIND-BODY WALKING – MEDICINE FOR YOUR BODY AND SPIRIT
For many people, starting an exercise program for the first time is quite safe. But depending on your age and whether you have certain cardiovascular risk factors, you may need to see your doctor first.
Healthy Parks, Healthy People is not just about physical health. It’s also about mental and spiritual wellbeing, emphasizes Sue Moynihan, chief of interpretation and cultural resources at the National Seashore. She also coordinates the many volunteers who work there.
“One of the things we noticed after 9/11 was how many people went to the national parks for mental wellness. They wanted, actually needed, to connect with nature. It soothes you and gives you confidence you will endure.”
Henry David Thoreau, who walked the Cape in the 1800s, was aware of mind-body walking when he wrote, “I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.”
Mind-body walking is something you are probably not used to doing. If you are like most people, your mind never stops doing chores, even when you exercise. You know all too well how high you have loaded your plate, and so while you are exercising, thoughts clang in your head. Mind-body walking means becoming aware of these thoughts and choosing to stop them.
WHAT CAN MIND-BODY WALKING DO FOR YOU?
In addition to improving health and reducing stress, it helps you achieve your goals. For instance, maintaining a 3 miles per hour pace while walking can be difficult. However, if you were to repeat to yourself the mantra, “I am strong and I am fit,” walking at that pace would seem easier.
It also enhances personal growth by improving your self-esteem, stimulating creativity, keeping exercise from getting boring and allowing for present moment awareness.
SO HOW DO YOU TAKE A SPIRITED WALK?
By tuning out the mindless chatter in your head and focusing. Focusing while you walk, though, takes practice. As your mind wanders, you will need to keep pulling it back. You can set a goal of focusing for 5-10 minutes at a time. You do not have to do this every workout. If you walk with buddies, make a pact to walk in silence for a short stretch.
To experience mind-body walking, try adding these activities to your walks:
BREATHING – Focus on breathing into your belly so that you feel your stomach expand. Then establish a rhythm with your steps. Consider saying “in, two, three,” as you inhale and “out, two, three” as you exhale. Or count in four’s if that feels more natural.
VISUALIZING – Think of a major goal that you are working toward. Maybe you are writing a book or trying to lose 20 pounds. If so, walk as if you have accomplished these goals. In your mind, congratulate yourself for having met your goal or tell yourself how wonderful it feels.
REPEATING AFFIRMATIONS – To stop your self-talk, create a positive phrase and think of it as you walk. Say a prayer if you want. Just keep it simple, using one or two-syllable words. For example, you might recite “I am here, I am breathing” one syllable or word per step. When you do this, you will pull yourself into the present. You will also start breathing more deeply which will boost your energy. Most importantly, you will return home refreshed and invigorated.
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