By Christie Green
From the hilltop in our Winchester neighborhood, you can see a long, unobstructed stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains some 20 miles away. That includes the pass where armies crossed into the northern Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War. On walks with Rico, my senior Labrador/Rottweiler mix, I sometimes imagined what that line of armed ants descending into the valley might have looked like.
I had plenty of time to think about this as Rico would get embroiled in a narrative of his own. Who peed on this bush today? And this one? Oooh, I wonder who nested here last night!
As a certified health coach and the typical busy American adult, I want the most bang for my buck out of these walks—my heart pumping, my leg muscles working, maybe even a little sweat. With his injuries and age, our outings stopped checking off those boxes. As we poked along, my brain ran an endless loop of all the things I needed to do, could be doing, and wished I had time to do. Eventually, I didn’t want to walk him anymore.
But how could I deny him when his eyes light up if I walk in the direction of his leash? I had to rethink what boxes I could check off. That’s how walking with Rico became a daily meditation. His slow pace provides time to focus on the physical sensations of moving. His pauses are a timer for practicing observing our surroundings without judgment or commentary.
This new approach makes our outings as interesting, if not more so, than anything I had imagined. In fact, walking Rico has become a welcome break. We’re just two friends enjoying our environment together.
Now when I go for his leash, we both light up.
Walking Meditation 101
The benefits of walking meditation are for everyone, and you don’t have to fit something else into your busy schedule. So whether your high-octane adventures with your dog are now downshifting as your friend ages, or if you have always enjoyed a leisurely stroll, adding meditation to your walking routine is easy and provides a great many wellness benefits. These tips turn walks into mindful meditation.
1. Put your focus on your feet.
Specifically, focus on the outsteps of your soles. From heel to toe, feel each foot’s continuous contact with the ground. Practice maintaining that focus with each step.
2. Feel your breath.
There are many ways to use breath to create calm. Here are three simple ones:
• Exhale twice as long as you inhale. For example, inhale for a count of four and exhale for eight.
• Inhale to almost maximum capacity and hold it while dropping your shoulders and chest; then slowly exhale.
• Make a breath pyramid by inhaling for one, exhaling for one; inhaling for two, exhaling for two; and so on. Go up as far as you can, then reverse back down to one.
3. Observe without commentary.
Practice allowing your eyes to wash over the view in front of you without your mind adding its two cents worth. Instead of seeing a barren tree, a pretty blue sky, an adorable, little chipmunk … just see. Witness your surrounding’s shapes, colors, smells, and textures without explaining or judging what you see.
4. Wake up your ears.
If a particularly popular bush brings your dog to a standstill, take the opportunity to close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Note things like their direction, if they come from an element of nature or are manmade, or if you react emotionally to them. Don’t judge. Just listen and feel.
5. Find your balance.
Stand with your feet hip width apart, toes forward. Without lifting any part of either foot, gently lean your weight forward toward your toes and back onto your heels. Sway slightly to the right and left, really concentrating on what muscles work when you’re misaligned. These are all miniscule movements. Finally, settle into your center, noticing how much easier and relaxed it feels.
6. Grow taller.
Shift your weight to one foot, imagining energy extending from your naval down through that leg into the ground and from the naval up through your torso and out of your head into the sky. Let your body relax and expand with this energy. Alternate sides. You can start with both feet on the ground and simply shift, but you can also progress to lifting the unweighted foot off the ground to challenge your balance. Don’t cheat by raising your hip to lift your foot. You can do this standing still or while your dog lumbers along.
Don’t try all of these on one walk. Pick one or two each time and focus on them. Soon you’ll look forward to these walking meditations as much as, if not more than, your old ways of walking.
About Your Guide:
Christie Green is a writer, certified health coach, and intuitive healer based in Winchester, VA. She’s learned the most important lessons in life from her dogs, Rico and Whiskey. They share their insights at DogandDojo.com.