Even when we’re “relaxing,” we’re usually watching TV while looking at the computer or doing a hobby and multitasking. But being too busy at once can be bad for your health. “Multitasking is the one skill that gets worse the more you practice it,” says Dr. Deepak Chopra, author of more than 75 books and founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. “Multitasking can increase stress and make your brain deteriorate.”
One of the best ways to combat multitasking and lower your stress level: Take a mindfulness walk for 10 minutes every day (while practicing social distancing).
What is a mindfulness walk?
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present to what’s actually happening around you. “Mindfulness is being in the present moment and appreciating what’s happening around you right now,” says Chopra.
A walk is a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness, because when you step outside, you change your environment and awaken your senses to what is around you.
Walking is also recommended as a great form of exercise. But there’s a difference between just walking and taking a mindfulness walk. “We often get so caught up in life and in our thoughts that we miss things,” says Lynn Koerbel, Assistant Director of MBSR Teacher Training and Curricula Development at the Mindfulness Center at Brown. Our lives are filled with ordinary moments that we don’t pay attention to because we are rushing through them. “Being mindful is about stopping and pausing and taking notice of them,” says Koerbel.
Notice, for example, how the air smells or how it feels when it hits your skin. Take a look at the colors around you — in the leaves of the trees, the grass or even the brown spots where the grass isn’t growing. Listen to the birds, the cars passing by, to the sounds of your particular environment.
Why mindfulness helps
When you are on a constant fast track, you are actually putting your health at risk. Stressed out people tend to be the ones who overeat, smoke cigarettes, drink too much, are sleep deprived and are constantly feeling overwhelmed. Conditions such as heart disease and cancer have been linked to stress. Being mindful can reduce your stress and improve our health, say both Chopra and Koerbel.
How to get started
Here are four ways to start a ritual of mindfulness walking:
1. Resolve to walk for just 10 minutes each day
Dress appropriately for the weather, and start with a stroll in your neighborhood. Don’t put on your headphones. If you invite someone along, be sure to tell him or her that the walk is about being quiet and noticing your surroundings, not about chatting.
2. As you walk, allow your mind to go where it wants
“Your mind will wander, “ Koerbel says. “That’s OK. Recognize that it’s a thought and only a thought. Then say, ‘Now I’m going to notice the breeze on my face.’” In other words, keep coming back to your observations about where you are now.
3. Be willing to be surprised by what’s around you
You will notice birds. You will observe people. You might see nothing! All of it can be a source of wonder, if you allow yourself to see it that way. Wonder brings joy to those who observe it. And joy, says Chopra, brings better health.
4. Pledge to take care of yourself
This walk is for you and part of your effort at self-care, Koerbel says. Be comfortable. Be grateful for your ability to venture out and be faithful to your commitment to it.
What you’ll get out of it
Mindfulness walking offers five benefits:
1. A settled mind
By staying open to what’s around you, you will begin to feel more peaceful. It may be as simple as recognizing what is around you, but walking mindfully may also allow your mind to open and see things more clearly.
2. An appreciation of nature
Many studies have linked being in nature with a sense of well-being. In your mindfulness walk, you can notice the things that nature provides us and appreciate them in a more complete way.
3. A chance to breathe deeply
Unlike yoga or guided meditation, mindfulness walking does not urge you to breathe deeply. But it’s likely that as you begin to walk, you’ll naturally take deeper breaths, which has several benefits. You can slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, reduce tension, boost energy and improve your mood.
4. Problem-solving moments
Sometimes, insights occur when you’re walking mindfully. And sometimes they show up afterwards. “Offering yourself time to come back to your center often frees us to think outside the box,” Koerbel says. “Mindfulness walking can be a process of self-discovery and self-care. Mindfulness supports us in many ways to go toward wholeness and healing.”
5. A sense of gratitude
Many studies have shown that feeling gratitude is a great antidote to stress. Mindfulness walking can stoke your feelings of gratefulness. “Those feelings often do arise when we are willing to be with ourselves and just experience everything around us,” Koerbel says.
It might be as simple as feeling grateful for the first breath of air or a feeling of vitality. It might be a sense of thankfulness for a beautiful day or for the scenery. Even if it is feeling grateful for something small, like the sight of a bright red cardinal winging past you, it’s a feeling you probably won’t have if you’re sitting at home.