Health Torch Uganda: Regular practicing of walking meditation reduces stress and depression.

What is a walking meditation practice?

walking meditation can simply be termed as the act of walking slower than the normal walks with relatively timed strides while being mindful of your own experiences thus referred to as “mind full walking”

Typically, during walking meditation you walk in a circle or back and forth in a straight line or in a labyrinth.
It’s also possible to do a walking meditation over a longer distance.
The pace is slow and can vary depending on the specific technique.

Examples of walking meditations

  1. Kinhin
  2. Theravada
  3. Vipassana

The above techniques can be as detailed as breaking down each step into six parts or simply strolling mindfully in a space. You may incorporate your breath or a mantra.

Possible benefits of meditative walking.

Studies on the elderly, type 2 diabetes patients, and nursing students all demonstrate wide health benefits. Although research is in some cases tentative, results suggest that there are numerous health benefits to walking meditation. One common connection is a reduction/regulation of cortisol in the blood, which is the body’s primary stress indicating hormone. While the body and mind are working harder, stress regulating factors decrease. One study of elderly women practicing walking meditation suggests mindful walking is somehow linked to decreases in depression and stress, in addition to increases in bone development. Another study based on Thai Chi meditation speculates a link between walking meditation and the production of catecholamines, which are linked to the brain’s response to stress. Recent advances in medical science also suggest that promoting peace and mindfulness are linked to neuronal regeneration. The act of walking with peacefully and with intention is curative to one who practices it.

Summarized are the benefits of Meditative / Mind full walking

Boost blood flow
Walking meditation is often used by people who sit for long periods.
The walking practice helps to get the blood flowing, especially to the legs. It helps to alleviate feelings of sluggishness or stagnancy.
Mindful walking is also a great way to boost blood circulation and raise your energy levels if you’re doing seated work for extended periods.

Improve digestion
Walking after eating is a fantastic way to boost digestion especially if you’re feeling heavy or full.
Movement helps food to move through your digestive tract and may also prevent constipation.

Reduce anxiety
If you’re looking to lower your stress levels, you may find it useful to do a seated meditation practice before or after you work out.
A 2017 study on young adults showed that walking is more effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety when combined with meditation.
The participants who showed the most significant changes in their anxiety levels either meditated, meditated before walking or walked before meditating. The control group along with people who only walked didn’t show as great improvements. Each meditation or walking session was 10 minutes.

Improves blood sugar levels and circulation
A small 2016 study concluded that a Buddhist-based walking meditation practice had a positive effect on blood sugar levels and circulation in people with type 2 diabetes.
People practiced mindful or traditional walking for 30 minutes 3 times a week for 12 weeks.
The group that did the Buddhist walking practice showed more improvement than the group who did traditional walking.

Alleviates depression
It’s important to stay active especially as you age.
Regular exercise helps to boost fitness levels and improve mood both of which are at risk of declining in older adults.
According to a small 2014 study, older people had fewer symptoms of depression after practicing Buddhist walking meditations 3 times a week for 12 weeks.
They also improved their blood pressure and functional fitness levels which can be achieved through walking.

Improves well-being
When possible, take a walk in nature like a park, garden or place with trees which may enhance your overall feelings of well-being and help you feel more balanced and relaxed.
According to a 2018 study, people who walked for 15 minutes in a bamboo forest showed improvements to their mood, anxiety levels and blood pressure.

Improves sleep quality
To get the benefits of exercise, it’s not necessary to do an intense workout. Research from 2019 showed that regular moderate exercise has a positive effect on sleep quality.
Walking may help to improve flexibility and reduce muscle tension so you feel better physically.
Plus you’ll be more likely to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety especially if you walk in the morning.
All of these benefits can leave you with a calm, clear mind so you’re ready to drift off and sleep deeply each night.

Makes exercise enjoyable
Incorporating a mindfulness aspect into your fitness routine may make exercise more enjoyable.
Researchers in a small 2018 study found that people who listened to a mindfulness recording while doing a 10-minute walk on a treadmill found the activity more enjoyable. They were directed to notice their physical sensations in a nonjudgmental way.
This points to the likelihood that mindfulness may inspire connecting to exercise in a different way.

Inspires creativity
Practicing mindfulness may bring you more clarity and focus to your thought patterns which in turn can stimulate creativity.
In the meantime, you can explore how a mindfulness practice enhances your problem-solving skills or the cultivation of new ideas.

Creates body balance
A study from 2019 on older women suggests that walking meditation can encourage better balance as well as ankle awareness and coordination.
The practice involves awareness of leg and ankle movements while walking slowly.
Make mindful walking a part of your day

Tips to help you get started with a consistent walking meditation routine:

  1. Be aware of the present moment
    Staying mindful of each moment is a habit that takes time to cultivate.
    As often as you can bring your mind to the present moment when you’re walking at any point in your day.
  2. Focus on the sounds around you,  your breath or any bodily sensations.
  3. Tune into your thoughts* and observe them as they come and go.
  4. See how the practice varies when you’re walking to a destination in a rush versus walking slowly.
  5. Slow down
    Often when our mind is moving quickly, we move in a hurry too. Slow down your pace for a few minutes even when you find yourself short on time.
    Notice if you have any resistance as you tune into your breath and body. Breathe at a slow, steady pace.
  6. Walk within the time you have, no matter how brief.
  7. Stay accountable.
    You can write things down in a log or journal and use this as a tool to reflect on your experience or progress.

By Dr Christine NH @ Health Torch Uganda

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