Walking clears your mind. Just walk! But not to burn calories or count miles but to commune with the natural world, and behold the benefits of walking in nature.
Let the thought of walking excite you— walk anywhere and anytime—at dawn, at dusk, in full moon. Walk mindfully—with attention on your breath and on your steps. Your mind relaxed and your heart gladdened. A solution to your problem is bound to emerge. At the Mindful Writers Retreats we begin our day with a walk.
“People say that walking on water is a miracle but to me, walking peacefully on the earth is the real miracle. Earth is a miracle. Each step is a miracle,” writes the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh in his little book, The Long Road Turns to Joy.
Kinhin, Zen walking meditation is walking slowly, deliberately, attentively indoors or outdoors. The ground may be green, fresh and beautiful or it may be dry and parched you simply walk focused on your breath or mantra or on leaves swishing, water falling and birds chirping. Aural sensations transport you to a different planet. You feel free of mental clutter thus empowered.
As you wander into wilderness slowly, quietly, under the green cathedral of maple, pine, redwood, or cedar. You simply sit or meander. No hiking, no counting steps or calories. you breathe in essential oils called phytoncide. Most trees and plants secrete these oils to protect themselves from germs and insects and in the process benefit walkers. The Japanese call this activity, shinrin-yoku, meaning “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” Inhaling the oil vapors seem to actually improve immune system, lower heart rate, blood pressure and reduce stress hormone production.
The aim of forest bathing is to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment. It differs from hiking or nature excursions because it centers on the therapeutic aspects of walking. You use all your senses. If you close your eyes, takes a few minutes to clear out the mental clutter and tune in to the natural world. When you open your eyes, you see the world as if you are seeing it for the very first time. The green looks a lot greener. Reveling in the great outdoors promotes health, improves memory and makes us feel more alive.
The practices of simply walking in nature, or walking mindfully anywhere, or in forest are making the same journey into the United States as did meditation and yoga thirty years ago. Due to the bounty of their benefits they are bound to become mainstream practices. Their common objective is to give walkers opportunities to slow down and appreciate being alive, having legs, being able to walk. This can only be experienced when you interact with your surroundings wherever you are, touching barks and leaves, taking the aroma of flowers and fruit, hearing the swishing boughs without earphones or iPhone in your possession as you move slowly and mindfully.
“Walking Through the Forest” is the title of one of my meditations. The day you miss an outdoor walk, listen to this guided meditation. It will improve your overall feeling of wellbeing.