Take a mindful walk
I spent last weekend in the company of several creative, inspiring, interesting and downright lovely women at the Makelight Retreat run by Emily Quinton (you can read about her in this interview). We talked, laughed, learned about story telling from Kate (check out her interview here) and Pinterest insights from Sarah, we made flower crowns with Jody and paper flowers with Kate, talked tech with Stef and photography with Catherine and Emily.
And I ran a session of my own, on living mindfully! Although I’ve been running my happiness e-courses for a little while now this was the first time I’ve run a workshop at an event. We looked at mindfulness, what it is and how it relates to photography, and took a short mindful walk. The discussion after the walk was great, it was so good to hear different people’s experiences and how mindfulness, and this particular walk, made them feel.
Because of the positive response to the mindful walk I wanted to share it with you too. Mindfulness isn’t something to practise all the time, that’s just not practical, and spending time thinking about the past or the future is needed and sometimes wanted. Taking time to be aware of what’s happening around you in the present reduces your stress levels, increases feelings of optimism and positivity and is shown to be beneficial to your wellbeing.
A mindful walk is a great activity to do at any time but when the seasons are changing it’s even better because there’s so much to look out for. Your walk can last three minutes or 30 minutes. You could walk around your garden, along a busy city street, or through a park. You don’t need special conditions and you can make the walk part of your everyday life.
Here’s how to take a mindful walk:
:: Look at what you can see around you. It could be trees, bushes, flowers, shops, office buildings, people, vehicles. Look down at the ground, at the pavement, the grass, the path. Look up at the sky, the clouds, the tops of buildings.
:: What colours and textures can you see?
:: Choose one area and focus in on it. For example, look in a shop window, what’s on display? Distinguish between products and props. Notice the different sizes, colours, textures. Is the glass clean or smudged? Is the window frame freshly painted or peeling? Another example is if you’re in a park, choose a section of a hedge or bush. Note the colours of the leaves, the different shades, the space in-between the leaves. Are there other plants mixed in with the hedge? Can you see any insects or signs of birds?
:: Move around your chosen focus, look at it from different angles, from the side and above.
:: Widen your awareness to your other senses.
:: What you can you hear? Without straining or judging, see if you can single out each individual sound and where it’s coming from.
:: What can you smell?
:: What can you feel on the outside? The sun, wind or rain on your skin? Notice the sounds your feet make as you walk on the ground.
:: How are you feeling inside at this moment? Are you cold, hot, tired, excited, relaxed? Don’t make any judgement on how you feel, just observe it.
The idea behind a mindful walk is that it gets you out of your head and into the reality of your experience right now. You’re paying attention to the world around you as it really is at this moment. You’re not thinking about a conversation you had yesterday or a meeting you have coming up tomorrow or what you’re going to have for dinner tonight. You’re in the present, experiencing this moment just as it is now.
While you’re taking the mindful walk you will feel your mind darting off in directions away from the present. This will happen over and over again and that’s completely normal. It’s a part of practising mindfulness – noticing your mind wandering is being mindful.
When you realise your thoughts have run off elsewhere, don’t be cross with yourself, you’re not doing anything wrong. Simply bring your attention back to what you were last focusing on. There are different ways you can help to return your attention to the present moment, here are a couple of pointers:
• say out loud (quietly if you don’t want others to hear) what you can see, without judgement, or what you can hear or feel
• check through your senses, noting something you can see, hear, smell and feel
• focus on your breath, where you feel the movement in your chest or stomach as you take a breath in and let it out
It doesn’t matter how many times your mind zips off and you bring it back to your focus. The more you practise mindfulness the easier it becomes to notice when your mind has wandered and to bring it back. And the amount of time you’re able to focus your attention on the present will lengthen.
During the mindful walk you may be tempted to divert off to take a photo, pick fruit or collect conkers, or nip into a shop. While you’re specifically taking this mindful walk try to stay with it. Continue to notice and observe the world around you rather than taking part in it, just for this short time. When you consciously decide your mindfulness practice is over you can then get on with whatever you have to do but while you’re in this mindful moment, try to be right here. Noticing, observing, without judging or doing.
And in case you wanted a little look inside the Makelight Retreat, here’s a short and simple film I made…
Music by Jahzzar.