Get your Zen on! The joy of mindful walking and running

As I’m gearing up for a run, I’m pondering the topic for this mindfulness blog. After selecting just the right gear so I’m neither too hot nor too cold for an eight mile run, I finally get myself outside. After a couple miles my mind wanders, reminding me that I need a blog topic. I let the thought go and return my attention to my running.

Then the lightbulb goes off. What I’m doing right now - mindful running, is the blog! 

Let’s slow the pace a bit and explore mindful walking. In the Zen tradition, mindful walking is referred to as kinhin, which means paying attention. Like many mindfulness practices, mindful walking is a way to increase awareness by paying attention to the present moment. 

Kinhin can be done almost anywhere, indoors or out. Whether walking on a sidewalk, in the woods, or up and down stairs, mindful walking is an opportunity to guide yourself out of a chronically distracted mind.

When you walk, run, swim, or engage in physical activity, it’s all too easy to mentally check out. Kinhin will help you to gather your attention and increase your awareness of the present moment, focusing more attention on what’s happening right now.

Mindful walking is a simple practice. These techniques also apply to mindful running:

  1. As you begin, walk at a natural pace.
  2. Bring attention to the sensations of walking. Feel your whole body walking, the movement of your legs, the lifting and placement of each foot.
  3. When you notice that your mind has wandered away from walking, bring your attention back. Re-anchor attention in the process and sensations of walking whenever you notice your mind has wondered.
  4. Do your best to practice without effort and without judgment. It’s the nature of the mind to wander. Your job is simply to notice when your mind has wandered and return your attention to walking … again and again … as often as is needed.  
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Let’s return to my mindful run. It all began three years ago when I ran the Broad Street Run with my daughter Laura. As I trained for this 10 mile race in Philadelphia, I began to apply mindfulness to my running. 

I benefit more from running when I do it mindfully. When I redirect my wandering mind back to the process and sensations of running, I run with more ease, more efficiency, and more joy. I’m also more aware of how my body is responding to the way I’m running in each moment. As I continue to increase my mindful running skills, I have benefited from a significant decrease in strained muscles.

The benefits of mindful walking or running are available to us all. The awareness that emerges from practicing present moment mindfulness techniques like kinhin will reduce stress and increase enjoyment and appreciation of your life. Give it a try!