How To Take a Mindful Dog Walk
Any good dog owner will walk their dog once or twice a day but did you know you could also use it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the very simple practice of bringing your conscious awareness to the present moment, rather than being consumed by thoughts and emotions.
It’s an ancient practice of awareness that has been popularised in recent years by Professor of medicine and creator of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Jon Kabatt-Zinn.
The power of Mindfulness is being widely recognised by health practitioners in the modern world with MBSR now even bring prescribed by NHS doctors as a treatment for depression, anxiety, chronic pain, immune disorders, and even cancer.
What is mindful walking?
Kabatt-Zinn defines mindfulness more generally as;
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”
Mindful walking is then offering your awareness to your experience whilst out walking as it’s happening, anchoring yourself in the ‘now’ rather than being caught up in a headspace of future and past as both are simply just thought.
Mindful Walking in action
The most effective way I have found to explain mindfulness and mindful walking is to consider what the opposite is and what that feels like in my own experience.
For example, at the start of a dog walk recently I received a text message which sucked me in. The first few minutes of my walk I spent staring at my phone screen, as you see many other people doing on their dog walks these days.
When I finally put my phone in my pocket my mind stayed completely focused on the problem the text had triggered in me. I went into problem-solving mode in my mind only, playing out different conversations with the person in question, worrying about outcome, feeling angry and feeling very consumed by my thoughts. I went into an automatic pilot headspace, not paying any attention to where I was, where I was going or what I was experiencing. On reflection, that headspace felt foggy, heavy and grey.
I caught myself being consumed in that headspace and I stopped and looked up. The clouds over the ocean looked incredible but I hadn’t noticed. It was as if someone then turned on the sound switch in my ears as I suddenly I heard the enormity of the crashing waves on the shoreline.
I had been on the beach for a good ten minutes but hadn’t noticed a single thing, I was too caught up in thought – being mind, full.
I took three deep breaths and set the intention to be as mindful as possible, noticing the colours, the sounds, the smells and being present with my beloved little dog for the rest of my walk.
It didn’t solve the problem I faced but it gave me some much needed headspace from it so I could return to it feeling more calm and clear.
How do you practice mindful dog walking?
To be present in our experience is something we all do quite naturally, it’s just our society has somehow forgotten.
Here are five simple steps to help you practice.
Set an Intention
To practice mindful dog walking, and mindfulness more generally, start by being intentional.
Before leaving for your dog walk set the intention to be present and aware. The biggest barrier most people find in practicing mindfulness is remembering to do so in the first place – so be intentional.
Use your senses
Bring your awareness fully to your eyes, notice the colour, shade and texture of your surroundings. Notice the sounds – the loud sounds and the quieter more subtle sounds. And if you walk a similar spot year round it’s incredible to note the seasonal differences in your environment.
Be in your body
Notice how each step feels. Offer your awareness to your whole body. Are there any areas of tension? Can you soften and relax your jaw or your shoulders? Our body will often give us clues to where our mind is at. Relaxing the body, relaxes the mind.
Take deep breaths. This signifies to the sympathetic nervous system that all is well, you are safe, there is nothing to fight with or run from. Offering your awareness to your breath at any time can anchor you into the present moment.
As the saying goes ‘One conscious breath is a meditation’.
When you notice your mind wandering or you ‘forget’ to be present, know that that just makes you a normal human being! It’s what we do. But the power is in the awareness. Every time you become aware that your mind has wondered, that’s a good thing! You’ve practiced awareness – the whole point of any mindfulness or meditation practice. Just let go (non-judgmentally) of the mental distractions and come back to this moment, right now.
Taking a mindful dog walk won’t fix all your problems or change your universe so that all challenges disappear but it might just help you find some grounding and clarity in dealing with life’s little complications.
You dog will certainly thank you for it and you never know, the daily headspace might just do you some good.