Walking, Exercise and Mindfulness

Walking is of course a great way to keep active and physically well, but did you know it can also be utilized as a method of including mindfulness and meditation into your everyday life?

Walking is an automated movement that we practice every single day. For most of us, we put one foot in front of the other without needing to focus in on the specific action, it is completely second nature. Because of this, our thoughts can race around our minds, causing clutter and chaos.

People go on walks every single day. But often, the walk is undergone with thoughts completely elsewhere. It can feel impossible to switch off, you may be physically out in nature, but mentally, still in the office or analysing all the tasks on the to do list, still to be completed.

There are, however, ways to transform your daily walk into a more mindful or even a meditative practice. And by doing so, creating a greater inner peace and connection to your mind and body.

Here are some things you could try to begin walking more mindfully:

Make a conscious effort to notice your thoughts:

As you begin your walk take note of where your mind may be drifting off to. It could be work or family related. Acknowledge those feelings and then let them go, remind yourself that this walk is for your mind and body. This walk is not however, a time to plan this week’s shopping list or worry about when you will ever have time to go back to the dentist. Shift your mind back to the present moment and focus in on the simple act of going for a walk.

Tune into your posture:

Check in with yourself. Are you holding any tension within your body? Are your shoulders raised? Do your hips feel tight? Quite often we subconsciously hold the stress we have in our lives somewhere within our bodies. It isn’t until we take a moment to notice the stress and tension within us that we can actively release and let it go.

Take in your surroundings:

As you walk, observe the world around you. There is no need to fixate on anything, but take it all in. Notice the trees and the changing surface under your feet. What colours can you see? Are there buildings or houses? Look at the birds and notice their mannerisms. Wherever you are walking, remain in the present moment. Too often we miss all the small stuff because we aren’t allowing ourselves to be truly present. Let your life go for the time you are on your walk and let in all the things that surround you.

Feel all the senses:

Now that you are in the present moment, dive deeper. What can you smell? What can you hear? What taste is still in your mouth? Take deep breathes and feel your lungs with fresh air and as you do so, take a mental note of all the senses of your body and how they feel.

Always return to the movement:

Come back to your body and the rhythm of your steps. As you come to the end of your walk notice if you feel different, mentally, physically or maybe both. Is there a sense of lightness and clarity that you can keep with you as your day continues?

This guide is a simple start to mindful walking, there are many resources out there that you can utilise for more meditative walking guides.

Including mindful walking into your day to day life has many benefits. 30-60 minutes, 3-5 times a week can have a profound, lasting impact on your physical and mental health.

Mindful walking can reduce risks of health implications such as illness, obesity and heart disease whilst simultaneously alleviating anxiety, stress and creating a greater sense of self. Life today is busy and noisy; our minds rarely get the chance to be still. Regular practice of walking integrated with meditation can ease tension and bring much needed calm into our lives.

Benefits of Pilates

Joseph Pilates at age 82

The Pilates method of exercise was established in the 1920s by German fitness guru Joseph Pilates (1881-1967). Pilates developed sequences of movement that focused on mind and muscle connection, as well as the underlying theory that long-lasting health and wellbeing is within our own power. Joseph Pilates was a testament to his method, remaining limber and strong until he passed in 1967.

“If your spine is stiff at 30, you are old. If it is flexible at 60, you are young.”
-Joseph Pilates

Joseph Pilates at age 82

The Pilates method is now recognised all over the world and is practiced by many people seeking to improve their physical and mental health, and as a result improve their quality of life.

So, what is it exactly that makes Pilates the perfect exercise technique to practice as you age?

Low Impact Exercise for Anti-Aging

A traditional Pilates workout involves strengthening the whole body whilst remaining low impact. This is perfect as you age, taking the pressure off the back and joints. Pilates aims to strengthen the small stabilising muscles of the spine and joints and all of this is done through gentle, functional movement. Much of the aging population suffer from conditions such as Osteoarthritis, joint pain and Osteoporosis. Many exercises in Pilates are performed lying or sitting and can easily be altered for all different levels of fitness. For example, someone suffering from Osteoporosis would benefit from a Reformer Pilates class. This is because the reformer equipment adds resistance to the exercises using springs, this added resistance is imperative to new bone formation. Pilates is a safe way for people to continue or start exercising as they age and can often assist with rehabilitation and treatment of these conditions.

Pilates Improves Coordination and Balance

Loss of balance and coordination is extremely common with aging, the Pilates method aims to combat this. Every exercise in Pilates begins with the activation of the core muscles, starting with the centre of the body and expanding outwards from there, positively effecting balance in day to day life. Awareness of our own centre of gravity and our core muscles that keep us from losing balance is important and practicing Pilates can help to keep these things in check as we get older. In terms of coordination, Pilates exercises require a great deal of concentration to synchronize the limbs, correct eyeline and breathing pattern within each movement, which with practice, vastly improves coordination.

Benefits of Pilates for Memory and the Mind

The number one Pilates principle is concentration. A Pilates workout requires complete concentration on what the body is doing, correct posture, breathing and various movement patterns. Exercise that challenges the brain and the body simultaneously is optimal for improving memory and alertness as we age. Instructors of Pilates also encourage their students to pay close attention to how their body is feeling with each movement in coordination with their breath, making the practice a mindful way to exercise. Additionally, the inhale breath through the nose and exhale breath through the mouth are purposely coordinated with the movement to enhance correct activation of the working muscles during each exercise. For example, during an abdominal curl, the breathing pattern is to exhale lift and curl up and inhale lower. This is important because exhaling slowly with force through the mouth as you lift heightens the activation of the Transverse Abdominus and Obliques, exactly the muscles we are aiming to work during an abdominal curl exercise. As well as better muscle activation, the Pilates breathing technique ensures safety throughout the exercise. By focusing on the specific breathing, clients will avoid holding their breath during the workout which places an increased strain on the cardiovascular system.

Pilates Improves Posture

Awareness of posture is an integral part of the Pilates method. Bad posture over time can result in back pain, the deterioration of joints, headaches and many other complications. It is common for people to tense and strain the shoulders and neck unintentionally whilst exercising. Pilates instructors, however, are trained to notice the posture of their clients within a class and will constantly be cuing to keep the shoulders down and back as they teach. Each Pilates class strengthens the stabilising muscles of the body and the deep abdominals whilst focusing on posture. This repetitive practice translates to how clients then carry themselves outside of class, with the strength and muscle memory to stand tall in good posture. By practicing Pilates, it is possible to maintain good, strong posture with age.

Pilates can absolutely help manage and deter the effects of aging. This list is just the beginning of reasons to consider taking up the practice, start today and feel the many benefits for yourself.

Written by Jayde Ormsby
Qualified Pilates Instructor