If you’re not a bit anxious these days, you probably aren’t paying attention.
Tuning out cable news and social media might be an option, but as a news junkie, I find that route impossible.
Enter mindful walking.
To be clear: I am not the mindful type. When it comes to walking (or any other exercise), I’ve always been about the burn. To keep my type 2 diabetes in check, working out means working at the highest level of exertion to torch maximum calories and lower blood sugars.
Yet over the last months spent sheltering in place, I’ve had a shift in attitude. While I still hit my stationary bike for a fast hour four times a week and complete a full body weight workout three times a week, I’ve noticed that other, more contemplative activities have gained more appeal. For the first time in my life, I’ve started a regular yoga class (online, of course) and added meditative walking to my day.
Neither activity eats up calories or sends my glucose down as fast as my more strenuous workouts. But the two have helped me combat anxiety and stress, both of which can also raise blood sugars.
My first encounter with mindful walking was a fiasco. Several years back, during a meditation retreat in Italy, our Zen master, a woman of very few words, led a group of us back and forth between a small stand of trees. Watching me jump into the lead, she approached and whispered, “You have an airport walk.”
At first her words made no sense. But as she slipped behind and I continued to barrel forward, her words caught me: I was racing through the secluded countryside as if I were hurrying to catch a plane.
At the time, though, I shook her off. The entire concept of going slow annoyed me. Life was short! Why not hurry to get where you wanted to go?
But sequestered at home, I’ve had a change of heart. In the absence of people to meet and places to go, I’ve developed an odd and inexplicable appreciation for taking my time: eating more slowly, savoring a glass of wine, even taking my time folding clothes.
And, I’ve been practicing walking mindfully. Rather than fixing on how far or fast I can go, I’ve focused on sensations that I might otherwise ignore. Like how my breath enters and leaves my body, the feel of the ground beneath the balls of my feet, how my head balances on my neck. And when my mind inevitably wanders or I feel myself speeding up, I gently guide myself back to the sensations of propelling myself through space and nothing else.
All of this is harder than it sounds, but with practice, you might find yourself looking forward to these moments of escape from the tensions of your day. The steps may not be aerobic, but sometimes slow going gets you places you might not expect.