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February 26, 2015
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Wakeful Walking

Connect to your inner self, naturally

After twenty years of guiding hikes, I have come to realize that we can reap the benefits of our time spent outdoors in many ways. For instance, we can just walk along, feel better, and clear our minds.

But do we really clear our minds, or just work through things?

If you want to take your walk to the next level, try to calm your mind and give your spirit freedom. A walk in the woods can be more than a way to see the sights and get some exercise. Most anyone can hike, but not everyone truly connects to the landscape. Doing so can enliven your spirit, allowing room for greater peace and enhanced awareness.

I’ve found that by calming my mind and connecting to my body and breath, I step further into the pulse of life. If I worry about losing a great thought, I record it with a pen and paper I’ve carried along. But I stay focused on my intention.

To start, I consciously breathe. To do this, I fill my being with breath. It may sound odd, but I envision breathing in down to my toes and out through the crown of my head. It helps to lift my arms up and over my head and fill my body with breath. My arms naturally rise and fall with my inhaling and exhaling. Breath is life force, a sanctuary available at all times with the ability to bring us to the now. I can’t think random thoughts while concentrating on my breath. With practice, I begin to witness thoughts, observe them, and not get caught up in them.

The next step is to wake my body up. I do simple stretches, and wiggle different body parts. I make circles with my feet and ankles, stretch my calves and quads, move my pelvis, circle my shoulders, touch my toes. I move. I know I can’t make a mistake unless I feel pain and don’t stop.

Now, I am ready to hike. By focusing on my breath, I attune to nature and my time outdoors. I can walk and simply focus on the in and out of my breath. Where do I feel my breath? In my nostrils? In my belly, diaphragm? As thoughts come up, I keep going back to my breathing. In, out. As I focus on my breath, I feel an inner expansion. I begin to feel a deeper connection to nature, to the universal world. This connection allows me to calm my being. It brings peace. I don’t have to do a thing but breathe and brush all thoughts away.

For many, this might not be enough to rest a busy mind. Focusing on something bigger than one’s natural breathing can be helpful.
Collectively, our five senses are a great tool. My two favorites are hearing and touch, but try them all. Start with hearing. Stop and listen—what is the nearest sound, the farthest sound? Sit by a stream and just listen. As thoughts arise, come back to sound.

For touch, I feel my foot on the trail, the air on my skin. With my fingers, I feel the plants, different tree trunks, leaves.
If tasting, be careful to make sure you know what it is! Some plants can be deadly. I also spend part of my walk focusing on smell; the scent of the pine needles, the clean mountain air.

Sight is our strongest sense, so it can take us away from our intention as our mind easily wanders. I look around at all that I see, but I stay focused.

After taking the time to hike with awareness by focusing on my breath or my senses, I feel expansive, connected, grounded—and altogether better. You will, too. Enjoy the support of nature and the freedom of “in the now.”

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