Mindful walking: Taking a break from ‘busy brain’

mindful walking in the countryside

What is Mindful Walking?

Mindful walking, also known as walking meditation, combines walking with the practice of mindfulness and simply involves bringing our awareness to the experience of walking while accepting what we find there. In our day to day lives we give little attention to the process of walking, meaning that our mind is free to roam, an opportunity it usually seizes on with gusto! The problem with a roaming mind is that it twists and turns here and there, maintaining a cacophony of chatter in our heads which is biased by years of unquestioned beliefs, habits, conditioning and expectations. Not only is the constant chatter not very relaxing, but our tendency to believe that the content of this chatter is significant can influence our mood, often without us realising, leading to feelings of stress, anxiety, low mood or depression.

Mindfulness brings us outside of our heads and into the reality of the present moment. By bringing our attention to the experience of walking, such as noticing the feeling of the ground beneath our feet, the rolling motion as we place one foot in front of the other, or the movement of the breath in and out of the body, our minds are no longer free roaming and our automatic thoughts and thinking styles are temporarily interrupted. This break from ‘busy brain’ can be a helpful way of managing stress short term and building resilience in the longer term.

The beauty of mindful walking is that it can be practised anytime, anywhere, for example, as you walk from room to room indoors, climb the steps onto the bus or wander around the shops. And as well as noticing the act of walking, you can also bring your attention to your surroundings by simply noticing the sights, sounds and smells around you, for example, the shades of colour in your dog’s fur, the sound of the rain falling on your bag or the smell of coffee from the nearby café.

Mindful walking in nature

With research suggesting that nature is beneficial to our well-being ( 1, 2, 3 ), practising mindful walking in the countryside may be particularly therapeutic. By observing impartially and openly, without preconceptions, judgments or seeking to change it in any way, the analysing part of your brain is at rest and you can experience the moment just as it is, unaffected by previous experience, learning or conditioning. Experiencing nature mindfully through our senses is a much fuller experience where colours, sounds and scents may be amplified and feelings of peace or calm may arise.

Five benefits of mindful walking – but there are many more!

  • The thinking, analysing, busy brain gets a much needed rest
  • It creates a pause in your busy day
  • Can help reduce stress and aid relaxation
  • The break from ‘busy brain’ can create a space for greater clarity, aiding your decision making
  • Learning mindful acceptance is a useful stress management technique which can be applied to all areas of life

© Michelle Drapeau, 2017

1. Maller, C., Townsend, M., Brown, P., & St Leger, L. (2002). Healthy parks, healthy people: The health benefits of contact with nature in a park context. George Wright Forum, 26(2), 51-83.

2. Maller, C., Townsend, M., Pryor, A., Brown, P., & St Leger, L. (2006). Healthy nature healthy people: ‘Contact with nature’ as an upstream health promotion intervention for populations. Health promotion international, 21(1), 45-54.

3. Richardson, M., Maspero, M., Golightly, D., Sheffield, D., Staples, V., & Lumber, R. (2017). Nature: A new paradigm for well-being and ergonomics. Ergonomics, 60(2), 292-305.