How to Start Walking Mindfully in the New Year
It’s the beginning of a new year, which means many of us are in full resolution mode - deciding exactly what will help us become better versions of ourselves over the next 365 days. It can be a tall order and we think the most impactful (and easiest to manage) resolutions are the simplest ones. So this year, we’re resolving to walk. And Walk, a recently published guide to mindful walking, is going to help us get there. We recently chatted with author and teacher Sholto Radford to learn why he believes spending time walking outside helps us reconnect with ourselves and how it can lead us on a path to a more fulfilled life. Read on to hear his insights.
terrain: How would you define “mindful” walking? How does it differ from a walk any of us may take during the day?
Sholto: Mindfulness happens when we deliberately bring awareness to our present moment experience. So mindful walking involves deliberately attending to what you can see, feel, hear and, even smell during your walk. When the mind wanders off into thinking, remembering, planning, or judging, this practice involves noticing the pattern and coming back to the present moment. Contact with the present moment can also give us a deep sense of connection and appreciation.
terrain: What is it about walking in particular that makes a mindfulness practice special?
Sholto: Walking takes us out into the world. It offers contact with nature and landscape. It puts us in touch with the elements, the cycles of life, and the seasons. When we bring mindfulness to walking, we can experience what’s around us with more vividness and detail - we’re noticing the things that we usually walk past without ever taking in. Mindfulness is not the goal itself but rather a way to more deeply contact the richness of our lives.
terrain: Can you speak to some of the benefits we could see from a mindful walking practice?
Sholto: People often report that mindfulness helps them develop a greater awareness and insight of their experience and helps them respond more effectively to difficult situations rather than habitually reacting and getting caught in negative associations. A key aspect of mindfulness involves a willingness to be with our present moment experience even if it is not pleasant. This is quite a different from resisting our experience in some way, zoning out, or distracting ourselves, which are common patterns and often unhelpful in the long run.
terrain: For those of us who are looking to bring a walking practice into their lives, what advice would you give?
Sholto: Walking in silence is a really helpful way to practice. Talking, although enjoyable, often keeps us engaged with the thinking mind rather than with our direct moment-by-moment experience. I think it’s also helpful to approach mindful walking with a sense of curiosity and without expectation. We can often be quite hard on ourselves, judging if we are doing it “right” or trying to stop the mind from thinking and supposing we have “failed” if our experience does not match some expectation. Becoming present involves accepting our experience as we find it rather than struggling to make it a certain way.
terrain: Can you tell us about one particularly memorable walk you’ve done and what it meant to you?
Sholto: Sure, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Walk. Of all the places I have walked, from the dramatic and majestic mountains of the Himalayas to the towering old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, the moment which perhaps impacted me the most was walking along a muddy farm track by the side of a lake in Wales. I’d walked this path many times and it’s not the view or landscape that remains with me but rather the profound feeling of ease and spaciousness that I experienced. As I walked, for a while, it felt like nothing else existed outside of that moment and my awareness seemed to effortlessly stretch out beyond my usual sense of self, separate from the world out there, and into something more whole, alive and mysterious. This was just an experience and now a memory but I feel these moments can shape us and our relationship to life.