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How Walking Meditations Have Helped Me Cope During the Pandemic

The transformative power of meditation on our minds and bodies has been praised for centuries and studied for decades. Walking meditations offer us a wonderful opportunity to not only calm our minds but also exercise and improve our long-term mental, emotional, and physical health.

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Photo by Noelle Otto from Pexels.
Photo by Noelle Otto from Pexels.

As we clinked our champagne chutes seconds after the clock struck midnight earlier this year, our eyes sparkled with the excitement of not only a new year but a new decade.

However, things took a turn for the worse shortly after we packed away our Christmas trees and unplugged the Christmas lights. The series of rather unfortunate events that have transpired this year has made it feel as if we’re living in a bad blockbuster movie.

As we finally inch closer and closer to the end of this surreal year, many of us are collectively sighing and eagerly awaiting the “refresh” we hope 2021 will bring. Even though we’ll soon be welcoming a new year, the challenges, losses, and lessons we learned this year will stick with us for life.

The Tipping Point

I spent a majority of this year worrying and stressing over suddenly losing my job, not being able to find work again, numerous setbacks in launching the company I co-founded in 2019, my half-decade long relationship falling apart, family members suddenly passing, and friends and family becoming sick with COVID-19.

As you can imagine, I had been teetering towards my tipping point for quite some time. After a certain career-related event, I found myself slipping into a dark, damp hole that I had once slipped into (and climbed myself out of) a decade ago after a year-long struggle with anorexia and depression. In October, my tipping point had officially been reached.

So, when I arrived in London from Glastonbury just days before the second lockdown, I made a promise to myself that I would spend the 4-week lockdown looking after my long-neglected mental health. To avoid falling off the proverbial cliff and hitting rock bottom, I had to act immediately.

As I mentioned before, I’m no stranger to the dark hole – I’ve stood over it and peered in several times since healing from my eating disorder and depression. I’ve been there before so I knew what I had to do and how I needed to do it.

Photo by Tom Swinnen from Pexels

As someone who practices and preaches mindfulness, meditation, and the power of gratitude, I knew I could find solace once again in one or a combination of the aforementioned transformative practices.

Walking is another practice (and my preferred form of exercise) that I’ve gravitated towards over the years. I love absolutely walking and could literally spend an entire day just happily wandering around. That is if I have a pair of super comfortable shoes on! When I discovered the magic and power of walking meditations years ago, it became a form of catharsis for me.

How to Engage in a Walking Meditation

If you’re wondering why I use the term engage it’s because walking meditations require you to engage and immerse yourself in the experience. Yes, other types of meditations also require full immersion but hear me out.

During sitting meditations, you can fully release and allow your muscles to relax. During walking meditations, you need to remain relatively alert and aware of your surroundings while still allowing yourself to RRR – release, relax, and rejuvenate. To me, walking meditations are more effective in the long run and I don’t fall asleep during them!

Walking meditations can be performed anywhere but I find them most enjoyable when done in a park, forest, or even your own garden or backyard. Ideally, you’ll be in a place where there are no cars or bikes so you can focus on immersing yourself in your meditation.

Luckily, during this second lockdown, we’re able to spend an unlimited amount of time outside. Rain, overcast, or shine, I’ve spent every day since November 2 engaging in walking meditations through Hyde Park to clear my mind, soothe my soul, and heal. I walk anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours and I make it a top priority in my daily routine.

Here are the 5 steps I follow to initiate and engage in a walking meditation:

  1. Leave my phone at home or take it to listen to binaural beats or 432 Hz frequency videos on YouTube. It’s essential that this time is social media, email, and notification-free. By limiting distractions you give yourself the wonderful gift of being fully present. If you’re limited on time, bring your phone and set a timer but ensure you commit to not checking your phone during the meditation.
  2. Practice several minutes of deep breathing. I don’t mean a few quick deep breaths, I mean deep breaths that you feel through your entire body. Breathe in as deeply as you can through your nose so air completely fills your lungs and stomach. Really feel it deep in your belly. This should take about 7-10 seconds. Then, exhale through your nose or mouth (up to you – I do a combination of both). This should last for 7-10 seconds. Repeat this for several minutes until your shoulders relax and your mind calms itself.
  3. Commit to giving myself space to feel, reflect upon, and release. It sounds simple but many times we get so caught up in what does or doesn’t happen during a meditation session. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, many times, an emotion or thought appears which we become fixated on and can’t move past. This causes us to become distracted and proclaim that “meditation is hard” or that we “can’t meditate.” What’s important to remember while meditating is that the goal is not to be completely free of thoughts and emotions but rather to allow them to appear, be acknowledged, and then continue to flow through you. If you give yourself space to feel, reflect upon, and release any thoughts or emotions, there’s less pressure and more space for transformation to take place.
  4. Begin walking. That is unless you were walking already which is, of course, absolutely fine. There’s no pace you need to follow. Allow your inner guidance to take over and take you to where you need to go. Your inner guidance will determine how fast or slow you should walk. Sometimes you’ll power walk while, other times, you’ll stroll along. With each step you take, focus on breathing deeply. Give yourself space to feel, reflect upon, and release.
  5. Relax and enjoy. This is your time. Giving yourself just a few minutes every day is not selfish. On the contrary, it’s the most selfless thing you can do for yourself – especially if you’ve been struggling lately. Regardless of how busy you are, there are always a few minutes to spare for the betterment of your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

What to Expect After Engaging in a Walking Meditation

Just as with anything in life, results will not be instantaneous. You’ll likely feel lighter after your first walking meditation but real progress becomes visible after prolonged practice.

Personally, I typically notice the first signs of improvement after a week of engaging in daily walking meditations. Not only do I experience more clarity and enhanced emotional regulation, I sleep much better, get my daily exercise in, and feel more hopeful about our presently uncertain future.

While walking meditations haven’t solved the challenges I’ve been facing, they’ve helped me to cope better, be even more grateful for everything and everyone in my life, be more mindful of all the beauty around me, and find joy in the little things.

If you’re currently going through a season (or year) of immense change and are looking for a way to manage your emotions and calm your mind, walking meditations are a wonderful way to do just that and more.

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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