A walk in nature is full of mind-catching moments.
Walking in nature and practicing mindfulness have a lot in common. Both require paying attention to movement and sensory input, such as sights and sounds. In fact, the two activities just seem to go together naturally.
People who regularly practice mindfulness report experiencing less stress, greater zest for life, and improved self-compassion.
Mind your step
Mindfulness involves focusing awareness on your present thoughts, feelings, sensations, and automatic behaviors. You notice and accept your moment-to-moment experience as it comes, without judging it or getting stuck on unhelpful thoughts and feelings.
During a mindful walk, you might notice the feel of your feet pressing against the ground, the warmth of the sun on your skin, the sound of wind rustling in the trees, and the different shades of green in the leaves. If distressing thoughts and feelings come up, you take note of them. But then you let them go as you move on to the next moment.
Take it outside!
You can do anything mindfully, but many people find that walking in nature is particularly conducive to mindful awareness. Several factors may come into play:
Walking involves rhythmic, repetitive movement. That’s especially true when you’re walking off the beaten path, where you don’t need to navigate through traffic and around other pedestrians the way you would on a crowded sidewalk. Focusing on the repeated step, step, step of your feet can be a meditative experience, eliciting a calm but alert state of mind.
Getting out in nature may further boost your ability to concentrate. Studies show that, when you're mentally fatigued, contact with nature can help restore some aspects of attention as well as working memory and cognitive flexibility.
Spending time in a natural setting is a treat for your eyes and ears. Your senses are alive and engaged. But they’re not overwhelmed, the way they might be in a stressful urban environment.
Practicing mindfulness skills while walking is easy and convenient for most people. It doesn't require any special training or equipment—just a good pair of shoes. And it's unobtrusive enough to do anywhere, anytime.
Cultivating mindfulness can sometimes be a challenge. But when you practice mindful walking, it becomes a walk in the park.
About the author
Linda Wasmer Andrews is a freelance health and psychology writer.
Stevenson, M. P., Schilhab, T., & Bentsen, P. (2018). Attention Restoration Theory II: A systematic review to clarify attention processes affected by exposure to natural environments. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 21(4), 227-268. doi:10.1080/10937404.2018.1505571