Mindful Walking in Nature

Hello I’m Angela Bagum, Mental health nurse and Clinical Work Focused Practitioner at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust. I’d like to talk with you about my experience of Mindful walking in nature, along with a quick outline on how you might do this yourself.

For the last six years, I have been engaging in mindful walking. This is something I did initially as part of a Mindfulness course, but I did not integrate it into my daily life until much later. I found myself changing my commute to work, so that I would have to walk through a park on the way there and back. At first, I changed my route because I enjoyed the park, but I started to notice that I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and less stress while walking through that space –almost intuitive response to my own health and wellbeing.

My interpretation of mindful walking has meant being open to what is around me, noticing my breath in the moment, making a conscious effort to feel my stride, and focusing on the colours, feelings, textures and scents in my environment. Sometimes, just being aware of different trees – knowing they’re alive – makes me smile, aware that underneath the ground, their deep roots are supporting other trees like a community network, helping each other out. At times, wind sweeping across me can feel like I’m bathing in water, in tune with the elements of the earth. In summer I can feel the fire. Marked by Gaelic Pagan ritual of Beltane, introducing the birth of summer and the fertility of land. What is, a hopeful exchange between seasons. These patterns of nature remind me that situations and feelings of difficulty, can and do, move on.

Mindful walking can feel like a type of cleansing or restoring of vitality. I later learnt about the Japanese concept of “Shinrin-Yoku”, meaning “forest bath” or forest bathing:  this practice is about taking in the forest, or trees and immersing ourselves in its atmosphere, using the five senses. Of course, there are times when it feels impossible to do any mindful walking or forest bathing…. But just being in the presence of nature is where it starts.

Some tips for Mindful Walking:

  • Firstly, you can practice mindful walking wherever you are, preferably in presence of nature – a park, on a quiet tree lined street, a wood, a river or on a beach… Just start walking!
  • Look out to your surroundings and what are you seeing in this conscious and present moment. What can you smell, feel and taste? How does your body feel as you move? A little heavier than usual. We are just noticing.
  • Bring attention to your breathing – you could try taking longer breaths than usual or slowing your stride, and you could even pause for a few moments in a particular spot. Perhaps resist the urge to check your phone, and instead focus on the here and now, engaging all your senses.
  • Check in with yourself and how you are feeling, are other thoughts  coming into your mind – it’s ok to notice them allow them to come and go, knowing that you will come back to them later. Focusing on your breath can help here, as well as the feeling of your feet as they touch the ground – a literal ‘grounding experience’.

Angela Bagum, Mental Health Nurse and Clinical Work Focused Practitioner at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust looks at mindful walking and forest bathing, linked with the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year, which is nature, and it is about a way of gathering oneself, looking after the mind and body, and finding ways to allow nature, wherever you find it, to offer some roots and solidity.