Stepping into Mindfulness

woman walkingMany women juggle multiple roles — wife, mother, daughter, friend, employee, boss — any one of which can be stressful enough. Layer on a few additional responsibilities since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, like working from home, homeschooling kids, and keeping the peace, and, well, it’s not unusual for stress levels to go into overload.

The good news is that there’s something you can do to help ease stress. It costs nothing and can be accomplished in just a few minutes. It combines mindfulness with walking, and it really can be as simple as it sounds.

Mindfulness simply means bringing our awareness to the present moment, without judgment. That’s no easy task, especially these days. It’s hard to stay in the here and now and not worry about the future or ponder the past. But when we get distracted by thoughts and emotions tied to “what if?” or “if only,” we miss the benefits and potential joy of living right here, in the present.

Practicing mindful walking, however — to the mailbox, around the neighborhood or through a trail in the woods — can help restore a sense of balance when we’re caught up in the drama and emotions swirling around us. Here’s how to do it:

  • First, set your intention to not just “go for a walk” but to use this walk as a mindfulness practice.
  • Pay attention to the experience of walking. Sense the movement of your body as you shift weight from one leg to another, as you lift your leg and place your foot on the ground, as your arms swing. You can walk as fast or slow as you wish; slower can help you make a connection with your body.
  • With each step, notice the world around you — the feel of the air on your skin; the colors and textures of the grass, flowers, and sky; the contrast of light and shadow; the sounds of traffic, birds, or the wind.
  • If other distracting thoughts come up, acknowledge that they’re there, but without criticizing yourself for letting them arise — simply turn your attention back to the experience of walking.

As you begin this practice of mindful walking, assess how your body feels when you start out each time. Chances are, you’ll notice feeling tense, tight muscles and your mind is racing (what some call “monkey mind”). Then, when you conclude your walk, again assess how your body feels. With practice, you may start to feel looser, calmer, less stressed — before and after a mindful walk.

So many of us are taught that multitasking is a good thing — the more we can do at one time, the more productive and efficient we can be. But the fact is, we can’t be in the present moment when we’re multitasking. That’s the value of mindful walking — it keeps us anchored in the here and now because it’s the only thing we’re doing and experiencing right now. And that helps relieve stress.

So, if you can put one foot in front of the other, mindful walking is a great stress-management tool that’s truly accessible and available. And the changes it can bring about are profound.

I spoke with a woman recently who said that with everything going on in her life — working from home, tending small children, managing the household — there’s no longer any time when she’s not in the role of caregiver. Her story underscores why it’s more important than ever to take some time to care for ourselves so we can continue to care for others.

And going for a mindful walk is a great first step in doing so.

Guest Blogger: Ginny Wholley is a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Instructor at UMass Memorial Center for Mindfulness Learn more about the UMass Memorial Center for Mindfulness.

This blog post is part of our Simply Women initiative that caters to the unique health care needs of women and their families.

  3 comments for “Stepping into Mindfulness

  1. anthony.maciag@umassmemorial.org
    July 9, 2020 at 8:52 am

    Reconnecting to the world around us through the simple activity of walking. First steps can lead to great things! Thank you, Ginny.

  2. June 11, 2020 at 10:49 am

    This was very well written, simple but included a lot of key points and and practical ideas for cultivating mindfulness in the current era.

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