Every child's first steps are taken with an acute attention to, and captivation in, the present moment. They are aware of every element: the balance of their body, the placement of each foot, the feeling of their toes and their soles touching the ground. The act of walking is a delight.
As we get older, walking--like many things in life--becomes something we do automatically, unconsciously. As it becomes mundane, the wonder of walking is lost on us.
Mindful walking can help us bring it back.
Mindful walking is a practice that brings us into the present moment and helps us connect with ourselves and with the Earth. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and peace activist, has written extensively on the practice of mindful walking. He emphasizes the importance of bringing our full awareness to the present moment, and placing our attention on each step. When we walk mindfully, we are able to feel the Earth beneath our feet and cultivate a sense of gratitude for life and our planet.
Mindful walking has many benefits for the mind and for the body. Studies have found that walking mindfully can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve mood and cognitive function, and increase feelings of well-being (1). Other research has shown that walking in nature can reduce stress and cortisol levels, boost immune function, and improve overall physical health (2).
Mindful walking can be done anywhere, but we recommend starting with a quiet natural space. Bring your full awareness to your body, noticing the physical sensations of your feet touching the ground and the movement of your legs and arms. Breathe in and out, deeply and slowly, feeling the air filling your lungs.
When you walk mindfully, bring your attention to the space around you. Listen to the sound of the birds singing, the rustling of the leaves, and changes in the wind. Smell the fragrances of nature and feel the warmth of the sun. Walk with a sense of gratitude, knowing that your steps are supported by the Earth.
Through this practice of mindful walking, we can cultivate not only an appreciation for life in the present moment, but a compassion and admiration for all living things. We can extend our love and gratitude to them, knowing that we are not separate from the world, but rather a part of it.
Remember that every step you take is a gift, and an opportunity to delight in life, to deepen your understanding of yourself, and to connect with the Earth and those we share it with.
"Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet."
― Thich Nhat Hanh
Want to support mental and emotional health in your school or classroom?
Mindfulness exercises provide children with the tools they need to self-regulate when facing difficult or stressful situations. Check out our blog for more tips on how to integrate mindfulness and social-emotional learning into your school community!