You Don't Know How To Walk: And A Few Other Things You've Been Doing Wrong

Somewhere along your early life -- perhaps around two or three -- you figured out the basics of something that few creatures can do: walk on two legs. Unfortunately after mastering the basics of this act-- such as keeping your upper body centered over your legs and that it doesn't work on water-- you stopped developing your walking skills. Actually, you've likely become a much worse walker since those early days, but having made it this far in this article, there's great hope for your future steps. Let me explain.

If you could go back and re-live your first days of walking, how would it feel? Exhilarating? The opening of a whole new world? Adventurous and motivating? All that and so much more, no doubt. Just look at the glowing face of a toddler taking their first steps and then being ever after resistant to let anyone carry them or keep them from moving. By all accounts walking looks like a blast to them! Fast forward 10, 20, 50 years and most people seem to have lost their enthusiasm for putting one foot in front of another, and you might even be thinking to yourself right now, "sure, but that's because it's just walking, nothing special," and that exemplifies the whole problem. It's so much more than JUST walking! What if there was a way for you to experience it as gleefully as your toddler self did? What if you could enjoy it and find fresh pleasures with each step? And what if it helped you become a calmer, happier person in general? For many people it already has.

What's in one step? A lot, actually. Each step is a potential focal point, a chance to realign our thoughts onto something better. But that's only the beginning because beyond the physical act of moving our bodies, walking brings an inherent and changing sensory display to our minds but most people overlook much of it. One person can walk through the halls of the Louvre with their face buried in their phone while another person walks next to them absorbing each masterwork they pass. The fact that they're both equally surrounded by astonishing beauty doesn't change, only the willingness to notice and enjoy it as it comes.

Learning to walk, to take advantage of the full and immense range of opportunities wrapped up in that simple action, is a process of becoming increasingly sensitive to everything happening as we do it, both internally and externally. 

The Internal Instead of going over a concern about work for the 12th time today, use the time spent walking to tune into your physical self. There are many ways to do this but in the interest of not writing a book here is a universally effective routine:

  1. Just notice what's happening. Without trying to contemplate or deconstruct the sensations you're feeling as you walk, just pay attention and feel what you feel. Sounds easy, but to stay tuned in without being kidnapped by other thoughts is a challenge. when other thoughts enter, acknowledge them, let them go, and return to your body scan. What do you feel? The pressure as your feel fall? the material of your clothing moving? Can you feel your heartbeat? stomach? muscles contracting and relaxing? Just by tuning into the sensations you're starting to focus your mind which has the effect of calming, engaging positive neural pathways in the brain, and strengthening the ability to quickly get into a focused mental state anytime. Research has found that just a few minutes of doing this body scan creates positive changes in the function of the brain

  2. Play with the pace and rhythm of your breath and steps. This stuff is powerful! Think of this as yoga meets meditation meets exercise. The triple threat. There are countless combinations with varying effects, but this is a great and easy one to begin: For six steps inhale continuously, then for 4 steps exhale and repeat. Do this for a minimum of 15 minutes. That's it. because it engages the movement of the body, the focus of the mind in counting, and the breath simultaneously, the result is a powerful almost trance-like feeling after a few minutes. The powerful effect comes from synchronizing the breathing, movement, and mental rhythm, resulting is immediate and major improvements in cardiovascular function, alertness, mood, and overall brain activity. 

The External The other aspect of walking is building off of external stimuli. The human mind and body as a team are capable of deriving immense delight and pleasure from nothing more than sensory perception of the environment around them. Here's an example: whether you've done it yourself or not (I won't judge!), you've no doubt heard stories of people taking a psychedelic drug and then experiencing the world around them as if it was a brand new and almost magical place with colors brighter than anything seen before and normal sounds mixing together like a spontaneous symphony of bliss. Stories like this are not all that rare, but the really incredible thing is that these joyful experiences are being had from seeing, smelling, touching, and hearing things that most people would barely notice, or notice just enough to see how blandly normal they are and move on. The stimuli are the same, it's only the perception that creates vastly alternate realities in our heads. The really good news is we have a lot of control over our perceptions even without drugs. Here's how to get started:

  1. Shift focus intensely. Like honing in on the easily overlooked internal sensations but now turning your focus outward. The concept is deceptively simple but becoming adept at it  does take some practice. The first and most fundamental step is opening up awareness to everything happening around you. To do this, shuffle through your 5 senses one by one and spend a minute really exploring each one. You can keep going deeper by asking "what else?" frequently. What do you hear? what else do you hear? what else? You'll notice that there is a ton going on right in front of you that you never noticed! This is the gateway into true enjoyment of your walk.

  2. Shift frames radically. Now that you've begun to expand awareness toward the finer details of the world around you, it's time to enhance how you experience them. This is called shifting your frame--the lens through which you experience everything. We each have a unique frame with which we interpret the world and it constantly changing, so why not consciously take control of it to gain new perspectives?

The easiest way to jump to a new frame is imagining life as another person. If you routinely walk through a big city, imagine  someone from the countryside who was visiting the city for the first time, or even better, an amazonian from an undiscovered tribe which exists deep in the rainforest. How would they experience all the details of this walk? what would they think, considering their background? This practice not only lets you enjoy your walk more than ever, it boosts creativity and openness to new ideas in other areas of life as well, so when you're done walking the streets as a tribal amazonian, solving that nagging problem at work might finally happen.

Final thought. If you're still not sold on the concept of mindful walking then let me leave you with this thought: You will have countless experiences in life, most of them being small and mundane, occasionally punctuated by a grand event that leaves you in joyful awe. But why wait?Why not feel some of that joy and awe during the mundane moments as well? Like the splitting of an atom, small moments hold massive potential if you know how to break it open.

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