I’m an avid hiker and have dabbled in meditation, but never thought about combining the two. So when the opportunity came to refresh my understanding how to meditateon a walk with AllTrails in Wales I took the opportunity.
I have hiked many times and usually use it as an opportunity to meet up with friends or talk to new people. Even when I’m alone, I like to listen to music or a podcast, and my phone is never far away.
However, this guided hike will be different; I will have to force myself to disconnect from the world for an hour and try to appreciate my surroundings, while also working in some short moments of meditation.
“Walking meditation combines the physical act of walking or hiking with meditative awareness. This includes bringing your attention to your feet, your body and the ground beneath you, focusing on the sensations of each step, and staying present in the rhythmic movement of walking,” says Dr. Suzanne Hackenmiller, Chief Medical Advisor at AllTrails.
The practice has recently become popular, but it actually has a very long history, with roots in contemplative traditions like Buddhism.
“In some practices, this is done in a back-and-forth pattern for a certain number of steps in each direction, but it can also be done while walking or hiking down a path,” adds Hackenmiller.
For my guided walk, I hiked 3km in a (mostly silent) group and stopped several times to assess my surroundings. Our hike leader also took us through some short meditations.
Here’s what I noticed during my outdoor mindfulness session.
That put my mind at ease
At first it was hard not to think about my to-do lists and whatever was on my mind, but the more I got out of my thoughts and noticed the smells and sounds around me, the more I was in the moment – and that gave me space for my head to focus on my walk and not what’s next.
The end of our walk also took us to a scenic overlook. Normally I would have stopped to take a picture with my phone, but at the end of the session I was more pleased to simply appreciate the moment; I felt I had better mental clarity.
Exercise in general has been shown to improve cognitive function, while meditation can relieve stress and anxiety. So it makes sense that combining these two activities would result in a better mental state.
It lowered my heart rate
Although the hike initially raised my heart rate, after a few minutes of meditation it quickly decreased, as the mental exercise stabilized my stress levels.
I am not alone in this experience. Regular meditation can lower your heart rate, according to a 2015 study Frontiers in psychology, and can also reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack.
It improved my sleep
Sometimes I struggle to sleep. After this session, not only did I fall asleep faster than usual, but my smartwatch told me that I slept just over eight hours, with high quality sleep — more hours of deep and REM sleep.
This is another benefit backed by science, as regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
How to do walking meditation
Choose a route that is relatively flat, like one of these AllTrails and where you will be undisturbed. According to Hackmiller: “Preferences for the ideal hiking trail for meditation can vary, but as a general guideline, I would recommend looking for routes that have provided places and rest stops along the way in peaceful and scenic surroundings.
“Choose trails that match your fitness levels and are easy to moderate in difficulty, so you can focus more on your meditation practice without excessive physical exertion.” Then turn off your phone and become curious about what surrounds you.