I do a lot of walking. I sometimes walk from my house to my office two blocks away. I pace while talking on the phone at work or home. I stroll through my local botanical garden occasionally. And, when I’m on vacation, I like to walk along the beach first thing in the morning.
From a spiritual perspective, some walking is utilitarian: Children and adults do it for the purposes of getting somewhere or hitting their step goals. But some of our walking is meant to feed our souls. And for that walking to be most beneficial, it needs to be mindful.
Mindful walking involves paying attention. It is deliberate and helps us see things about ourselves and the world around us that we might not notice otherwise. When we introduce children to such walks in green spaces, they also benefit from the positive effects of nature on their emotions, creativity, and social interactions (see The Spiritual Effects of Nature).
Next time you go on a nature walk with children, try one or more of these mindful walking techniques:
Body Awareness. Encourage children to notice their bodies as they walk. They can pay attention to the sensation of their feet touching the ground and the rhythm of their arms swinging. They might notice how their breath becomes faster or slower as their pace speeds up or slows down. They may even feel their pulse rate shift on an uphill climb and then change again on a flat stretch. Paying attention to their bodies brings their mind and body into sync.
Walking with Words. Invite children to pick a positive or self-affirming phrase that they will repeat (quietly or in their heads) while they walk. They might use words like “It is good to be walking in this beautiful place” or “I can be myself here” or “I am thankful”.
Sensory Walking. Ask children to pay attention to the different sensations they receive from all five of their senses. First, invite them to notice what they see. Then shift to focusing on sounds they can hear, followed by smells and tastes in the air. Finish by noticing the things they feel on their skin and through the soles of their feet.
Walking with Emotions. Encourage children to notice the different emotions they experience while walking. Suggest some questions they can ask themselves: How do I feel when I step from the shade into the sunshine (or vice versa)? What emotions surface when I see a steep incline ahead of me? How do I feel when I get to the top? What are my feelings as I walk the last few steps on the path? Or invite them to walk as they would if they were feeling anxious, ashamed, joyous, or confident, and notice the differences in their posture and gait.
Appreciative Walking. Ask children to notice the positive and beautiful things around them as they walk. These might be spring blossoms, sunlight through a fence, the smell of honeysuckle, or even other hikers’ acts of kindness and care for one another and the environment. If they walk the same path often, encourage them to notice and appreciate what has changed since their last hike.