Many of us have found the time particularly during the pandemic to walk. It’s been a good way of getting away from things and an excellent way to get some fresh air and much needed exercise. But is walking always good for our mental health?
I have been an enthusiastic walker for many years but until relatively recently – I was a stressed walker. I’d stride out looking to get from A to B as quickly as I could, and my mind would be incredibly busy thinking about either what I’d do when I arrived at my destination or sometimes, I would be caught up in all sorts of mental gymnastics that would stress me out completely. Looking back the walking was an irrelevance and I derived absolutely no pleasure or benefits from it – I was just heading from A to B – stressed and behaving as though I was stuck in heavy traffic. I scarcely noticed anything around me – I was so preoccupied with my busy head and ‘getting there’.
Then I read a book on meditation – and this book talked about being mindful and living in the moment… if you washed the dishes it said – ‘wash the dishes’, enjoy the task in hand and stop busying your brain with ‘other stuff’ – this all sounds very obvious, but it struck a chord with me because I wasn’t enjoying very much at the time, because my head was always spinning at 300 miles an hour thinking about all sorts of stuff, that was preoccupying my every conscious moment – I was living in the future or the past but very rarely in the moment. The mediation book then talked about the real pleasures of walking- the sensation of ‘actually walking’ (something that was totally lost on me), clearing your head and using the time to really relax and enjoy being out with nature.
I read intently and decided to give it a go… first I started walking more slowly – I suddenly realised I was walking at one hell of a pace – stomping around to get wherever I was going as quickly as I could – slowing down felt so good, if a little unnatural at first. I tried to listen to the sensations as I walked, my feet on the ground, the sounds around me, my arms moving from side to side. If I’m honest, I found it very hard to stop my head getting busy, it was a ‘force of habit’ thinking very hard as I walked but with practice, I found a way to empty my head of thoughts and feelings; and as thoughts invaded my space, I learned to dismiss them. Within a few weeks I found I was able to really walk… walk at a slow pace and enjoy every step, I was calm relaxed and incredibly happy. I started walking without a destination or a route in mind… I’d just walk. I tended to wonder where there was no traffic and where I could be less disturbed… I swapped the din of the traffic for the trees rustling. This walking became a daily occurrence and became quite addictive, it was my time, a time when I could be at peace, where I could rest my tired mind and where I completely empty my head and think of nothing. It might sound outlandish, but I could never remember having time all to myself like this – and it felt so good.
I have been walking and simultaneously meditating like this for a little over a year now and it has become a key part of my daily regime. It’s a time to cast off any worries, stresses or issues – everything is put to one side – walking is not a time to contemplate or think… it’s a time to relax and clear my mind – I think of it as working on myself; but in reality I don’t do anything – I just clear my mind of all thoughts. In this ‘frantic’ world we inhabit, I have finally found somewhere where I am completely free and alone; that 60-minute walk I take every day is an opportunity to put my mind at rest – to literally empty my head – it’s a little like hitting the button on your PC that clears the ‘bin’. It’s a reset that stops my mind getting overwhelmed or too busy. Next time you head out for a walk – take a moment when you get home to reflect on what the experience was like – are you a stressed walker or a relaxed walker? I’d strongly recommend the latter… try giving it a go….