By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“One of the most useful and grounding ways of attending to our body is the practice of walking meditation. Walking meditation is a simple and universal practice for developing calm, connectedness, and embodied awareness. It can be practiced regularly, before or after sitting meditation or any time on its own, such as after a busy day at work or on a lazy Sunday morning. The art of walking meditation is to learn to be aware as you walk, to use the natural movement of walking to cultivate mindfulness and wakeful presence.” – Jack Kornfield
Contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi / qigong, have been shown to elevate mood in normal individuals and individuals who suffer from mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Two common techniques used with patients with mood disorders are Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Both of these therapies contain a number of mindfulness training techniques including sitting meditation, body scan, and walking meditation. Although the effects of sitting meditation have been well documented, little is known about the effects of walking meditation.
It has long been reported that walking in nature elevates mood. It appears intuitively obvious that if it occurred in a beautiful natural place, it would greatly lift the spirits. But, there is little systematic research regarding these effects. It’s possible that conducting walking meditation in nature might potentiate the effects by combining two mood enhancing practices. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and mood stimulate each other in an upward spiral: a mindful walking intervention using experience sampling.” See:
or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:
Gotink and colleagues studied the effects of waking meditation in nature on the moods of adults who had completed courses in either Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The participants were measured a week before and during a walking meditation retreat of either 1, 3, or 6-days. Walking occurred in nature along the river Rhine in the Netherlands. During the walk their moods (content, cheerful, relaxed, energetic, calm, sad, irritated, insecure, and tense and mindful observing, acting with awareness, non-judgment, and non-reacting) were sampled at random times by responding to a signal on a cell phone which also collected the responses. Before and after the control and walking periods the participants filled out scales measuring depression, anxiety, rumination, and mindfulness.
They found that the mindful walking significantly increased positive moods and mindfulness and decreased negative moods. They also found that state mindfulness at one sampling significantly predicted increased positive moods and decreased negative moods at the next sampling. Similarly, positive moods at one sampling significantly predicted increased state mindfulness at the next sampling while negative moods at one sampling significantly predicted decreased state mindfulness at the next sampling. These findings suggest that walking in nature improves mood and that mindfulness increases appear to precede improvements in mood.
These are interesting findings. They demonstrate that the experience sampling method can be employed to monitor the growth in mindfulness and mood during walking in a natural setting. They further suggest that walking in nature produces an upward spiral of mindfulness and mood enhancement where increased mindfulness at one moment increases mood at the next which increases mindfulness at the next which increases mood at the next and so on.
So, spiral up your mood with walking meditation.
“The Buddha stressed developing mindfulness in the four main postures of the body: standing, sitting, lying down and walking. He exhorted us to be mindful in all these postures, to create a clear awareness and recollection of what we are doing when we are in any particular posture.” – Buddhist Society of Western Australia
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Gotink, R. A., Hermans, K. S. F. M., Geschwind, N., De Nooij, R., De Groot, W. T., & Speckens, A. E. M. (2016). Mindfulness and mood stimulate each other in an upward spiral: a mindful walking intervention using experience sampling. Mindfulness, 7(5), 1114–1122. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0550-8
The aim of this study was to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of mindful walking in nature as a possible means to maintain mindfulness skills after a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) or mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course. Mindful walking alongside the river Rhine took place for 1, 3, 6, or 10 days, with a control period of a similar number of days, 1 week before the mindful walking period. In 29 mindfulness participants, experience sampling method (ESM) was performed during the control and mindful walking period. Smartphones offered items on positive and negative affect and state mindfulness at random times during the day. Furthermore, self-report questionnaires were administered before and after the control and mindful walking period, assessing depression, anxiety, stress, brooding, and mindfulness skills. ESM data showed that walking resulted in a significant improvement of both mindfulness and positive affect, and that state mindfulness and positive affect prospectively enhanced each other in an upward spiral. The opposite pattern was observed with state mindfulness and negative affect, where increased state mindfulness predicted less negative affect. Exploratory questionnaire data indicated corresponding results, though non-significant due to the small sample size. This is the first time that ESM was used to assess interactions between state mindfulness and momentary affect during a mindfulness intervention of several consecutive days, showing an upward spiral effect. Mindful walking in nature may be an effective way to maintain mindfulness practice and further improve psychological functioning.