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How Mindfulness can Help You Walk Away from Stress Today

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

happy walkerIt seems like more and more these days people are rushing from one place to another. They're rushing to get to work, rushing to pick up the kids, and even rushing home to relax. Think about that for a minute, "rushing home to relax". We get ourselves all worked up with our knuckles tightening around the steering wheel, tension building up our backs, becoming irritable at the slow person in front of us, with the hope of finally letting it go when we get home. It seems a bit counterproductive as it takes longer to release this built up tension when we arrive home. In fact, this built up tension and irritability leads to lower patience at home, which if you have a significant other, may make you more susceptible to arguments and amplify your irritability.

In my own practice I often recommend a simple practice to try to make a change in the day. In this practice we're bringing present moment awareness to the act of walking. First we'll start out practicing for a few minutes in the privacy of our own homes and then we'll bring it out into the world.

Here are the instructions:

  • Stand straight up with your knees a bit loose, with eyes facing forward and bringing attention to your breath. To help with attention you can say to yourself "in" as you're breathing in and "out" as you're breathing out. This is just to anchor us to the present moment.

  • Now shift your attention to the soles of the feet, feeling the weight on the feet. Notice if there is more weight on certain areas more than others.

  • Begin to shift your weight on one leg, noticing the change in sensations of the leg and foot. Then shift it to the other leg, noticing the sensations again, then back to center.

  • Begin to gently lift the left leg (you can also start with the right if you like), noticing the pressure moving to the right leg as the left heel and then toes come off the ground.

  • Continue to do this with one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it helps to say "toe, ball, heel, lift" to yourself to sustain attention on what is happening in the present moment.

Practice this at home for a few minutes at a time. Then, when you are walking to or from your car, try and practice this same present moment awareness with your walking. You can move a bit faster than you did when doing this at home, but still slower than normal. As you're doing this in everyday life, try and also bring attention to your senses. You might focus on sounds while mindfully walking or maybe the sites. Feel free to stop and smell the roses if there are any around. When you're in the car on the drive home, ask yourself "am I rushing home to relax?" If the answer is yes, try and bring attention to your breath for a moment, loosen your grip of the steering wheel, and loosen your shoulders.