A recent Study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that employees who took short, frequent breaks enjoyed higher job satisfaction, reduced exhaustion, and a greater willingness to go beyond assigned tasks. So, when should you take a break and for how long? There’s no harm in finding what works for you, but a good formula is to take five minutes for 30 minutes worked. So if you work for an hour, take a 10-minute break. And while you’re enjoying your break why not use the time to practice a walking meditation?
When you’re experiencing stress or anxiety you need something to interrupt the experience and the loop or pattern that’s keeping you stuck. Movement does that.
If you have to walk a short distance every day, say to the bus stop, to the train, to the shops, or to your child’s school then a walking meditation is a great way to combine movement with the power of mindfulness. This practice means bringing your attention to the actual experience of walking as you are doing it. Jon Kabat-Zinn author of Full Catastrophe Living – Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness (1990) explains it as “…simply walking and knowing that you are walking. It does not mean looking at your feet!”
The following simple walking meditation is one I practice and enjoy.
1. Start with your feet hip width apart. Shake out your body. Ensure your back is straight and your chin is tucked in. Begin to pay attention to your breathing.
2. Look down at the ground just in front of you. Relax your gaze. Allow your eyes to defocus slightly. Maintain attention on your breathing.
3. While inhaling, slowly lift your left foot. Heel first. Get a sense of peeling the foot off the ground and take one step.
4. Exhaling press your left foot down slowly, heel first.
5. Now do the same sequence with your right foot. You can choose to walk at your normal pace or to take things a little slower to be even more attentive. No one will notice anything unusual either way.
6. Pay attention to every movement you make and keep your breathing in sync with your footsteps. I suggest that when you first begin to practice walking meditation, you just pay attention to the feet and legs. Then, once your concentration becomes stronger, you can expand the field of awareness to include a sense of your whole body walking. At that point you can notice your knees, your hips, the way your arms move, the shift of your weight from right to left and left to right. You can begin to notice the temperature of the air on your skin and the sensation of the movement of the air over your skin.
Because we know how to walk we take our ability to do so very much for granted. However, once you start paying attention to it, you begin to realise what an amazing balancing act it is.
When you pay attention to your walking in this focused way you will discover it shuts out negative automatic thoughts and stops any worries intruding. It will also make a routine experience more vivid and actually more interesting.
And best of all it will leave you calmer and less tired at the end of the journey.
I need to point out that it’s likely that as you walk, your attention will shift somewhere other than on your walking. This is normal. Once you notice your attention has shifted, simply return your attention to the feet, legs, body.
And finally a caution. If you always leave it until the last minute to head out of the door to catch the bus or train to work, you’re going to have to plan to set off earlier because mindful walking may take you a little longer to get there. The last thing you want to achieve, is to arrive at the station all nice, calm and relaxed only to find you’ve missed the bus or train.
I encourage you to take short, frequent breaks and to use this time to practice mindful walking today.