Mindful Walking with my Dog, Henrietta.
The following is a walking meditation guide inspired by Henrietta, my German Shepherd.
The following is a walking meditation guide inspired by Henrietta, my German Shepherd.
What you need for this guided mindful walk.
1. Your dog, if you have one.
2. An imaginary dog, if you don't have a real one.
3. You might even imagine yourself as a dog.
A brief note on the benefits of mindful walking with your dog.
There are so many benefits to mindful walking with a dog.
We'll focus on the following two benefits during this meditation.
One. We'll focus on how walking boosts our blood and oxygen flow. When our lungs, heart, and muscles function well, we can reduce anxiety and enhance our mental and physical health.
Two. (And this is where your canine companion comes into it.) We'll focus on how walking with our dog can facilitate our own mindfulness. We'll let the dog show us how to do this. We'll notice how blissfully present they are when they are out walking. They're alert and attentive to all new sensations: sights and sounds and smells, as well as people and animals.
We'll notice how they pause to engage with a smell or a sound and then let it go and move on.
We'll notice how they don't intentionally choose a smell or a sound to attend to.
They simply allow sensations to appear and then they simply let these sensations disappear.
This is what we want to learn today.
This is what we want to practice.
Of course, walking with any companion has its challenges and distractions. That's okay. As soon as we notice that we've been distracted or pulled along at a faster pace or pulled back in another direction, we'll just allow it for a little while and then we'll let it go and move on.
We'll probably find that our dog moves on ahead of us anyway.
Our goal is to intentionally focus our attention on our mind and body walking in the present moment.
So, let's begin.
Before you start your walk, you might like to pause for a minute or two to take a few long and deep breaths to ground and anchor you. You might like to do this standing, at the front door. At this point, also allow your dog the opportunity for calm, maybe by scattering some treats on the floor for your her to sniff. Sniffing is calming and relaxing for dogs.
You might choose to spend a little more time in a comfortable sitting meditation. Sit with your dog.
Take a few long breaths and imagine how this boosts your blood and oxygen circulation. Imagine how your breaths fill your lungs, pump your heart, and energize your muscles. Take this image with you on your walk.
Now take a few more moments to reflect on your mental and emotional state. Is there anything that feels unsettling or uncomfortable? Just notice it for what it is, thought and emotion, and leave it for now. You can come back to it later in the day.
Bring your attention to the sensations in your body. How are you feeling? Is it a good feeling or a bad feeling? Just notice the feeling. There's no reason to adjust it. There's no reason to choose a good feeling over a bad feeling.
Just notice the feeling and breathe. Notice where your breath enters your body. Do you feel it at the tip of your nose? Do you feel it on your tongue or the back of your throat? Do you feel it in your stomach, expanding your abdomen?
Notice the sensations of each inhalation and each exhalation. Sometimes it helps to tag a breath with a verbal cue in your head. You might use a number to count each breath in and each breath out. Or you might say in your head, "In" and then "Out."
As you set out on your walk, this is what you will come back to. Your noticing of the sensations of your inhalations and exhalations. Your breathing will serve to ground you, to anchor you in the present moment as you walk through a world of distractions.
As your feet wander outside, so will your mind wander. When you notice that you've wandered off on a contemplative tangent, exploring an idea or ruminating on a problem, think of your breathing as your anchor. The more you practice it, the stronger an anchor it will become.
On a walking meditation, we'll also find that the sensations of walking, of putting one foot in front of another, and the rhythm of our walking, also become our grounding technique, our anchor of awareness.
On a walking meditation breath and movement synchronize and become a dual tool for intentional focus on the present moment.
I think we're ready to head outside.
As you step outside, notice the sensation of being outdoors. What's the weather like? Is it noisy or quiet? Without any judgement at all, take your first step and enter the outside space.
Notice the first step you take. Notice the next step you take. Notice your dog's steps, too. Notice how your body feels as it begins to walk, moving one foot in front of the other. Notice the point at which your foot meets the ground. Is your step heavy or light? Are your feet tense or relaxed?
Take a few more moments to work up your legs. How do you calves feel? Tight or loose? How do your knees feel? Follow your attention up along your body. How do your hips feel? How do your legs feel moving under your hips?
And now, attend to your chest. Does it move with your breath? How does it feel? Tight and stiff? Loose and supple? And what about your arms? Are they swinging by your side? Or are you holding your dog's lead? How do they feel? Light or heavy?
Without correcting any movement just observe your strides. Note your pace. Is it slow or fast? Notice your rhythm. Is it smooth or rough?
Again, without correcting any movement at all, just observe yourself in motion and turn your attention to your dog.
If she looks at you, take time to praise her, offer some verbal encouragement and attention. Take a brief break for play.
And then, with a few deep breaths, counting or tagging, slowly and gently return your awareness to your body. How does your spine feel? Is it burdened and slouched? Or is it light and stretched tall? How does your spine support your posture?
Take a few moments to notice.
There's no reason in the world to alter your posture. No reason in the world to change anything at all about the way you are walking. Simply allow it to come to your attention and then let it go.
Now, turn your attention again to your breath. Remember this is always going to be your grounding technique. Your breathing will always be your anchor. So, turn your attention to your breathing and just focus on the breaths you are now inhaling and exhaling.
Inhale and count or verbally tag in your head. You might use a number, One. You might just say, In or Breath.
Exhale and count or verbally tag the exiting breath. One. Out. Breath.
As you are doing that, notice your pace. Notice if your inhalation occurs with your step forward. Notice if your exhalation occurs with your next step forward.
Maybe your dog has a faster pace at the moment and you are taking two steps per breath, or four steps.
There's no reason at all to change your pace. You're just noticing. How does this feel? Is the feeling comfortable? Or is it awkward? Both positive and negative feelings are equally welcome here. You don't need to choose one over the other. You don't need to change anything, or correct anything.
After all, this is your dog's walk. She's leading you. You're following. Observing. Learning.
So, let's observe our companion.
Notice how she tunes in to what's going on around you both. Maybe there's a bird on the beach. She observes it. Maybe gives it a chase. And then, drifts off towards another sight or smell or thing.
Maybe there's a car passing, a person walking past you both. Observe how your dog acknowledges the things, maybe she lingers with curiosity for a while, and then, quite simply, she moves on.
Notice that your dog doesn't intentionally choose to pay attention to these things that come into her awareness. Notice that once she's moved on, she isn't even thinking about them at all anymore. They've simply drifted into her awareness, and she's toyed with them for a while, and then they drift out of her awareness.
Let's try it.
Turn your attention to any sounds that you hear. There is no reason to search for sounds, just accept them when come to you. There's no reason to turn to look at the things making the sounds, just let the sounds come to you.
Is it the sound of the sea? A bird flying overhead? A car speeding past? Children, at the bus stop, laughing?
Observe how your dog attends to sounds. She might be walking rhythmically ahead and it's the twitch of her ear that signals her attention to a sound. She won't normally break her pace for it. This is what you want to practice now.
It's doesn't really matter where the sounds are coming from or who is making them. Just notice that there are sounds. Notice how they drift into your awareness. Notice how they drift out of your awareness. Are they nearby or distant sounds? Notice how the sounds flow into your ear. Can you pinpoint the part of your ear that first hears the sound?
There's no reason to contemplate what they might mean or who is making them. If you notice that you're trying to identify the sounds or giving them a label or attaching meaning to them, simply ground yourself again in your breathing, this is your anchor, and as you breathe simply focus on hearing the sounds as they drift into your awareness.
Now let's see what your dog is up to.
Sniffing smells. Yes, of course, smells.
Notice that she's not intentional about search out smells. The smells simply appear. She notices them. Lingers with them a while. And then she moves on.
Now turn your own attention to the smells in the air. There's no reason to actively search for them, though it might be hard to resist bending down to smell a rose in someone's garden. That's okay. Just notice how you are intentionally trying to create a scene here. You are somehow trying to attach meaning to the experience of smelling a rose. Maybe smelling a rose is romantic? Maybe it reminds you of something or someone?
Notice how you tend to do this, create stories about things that cross your path.
Your dog isn't creating any stories in her head.
It is, after all, human nature. But for now, let those stories go and return to your anchor, your breath. You'll have the rest of the day to contemplate meanings and memories if you like.
Turn your attention again to your legs and your feet. How do they feel? Are they light and fast? Slow and heavy?
Notice that whatever the rhythm, fast or slow, you can still bring your focus back to your walking feet and that rhythm. Remember that this rhythm is your anchor of awareness, your grounding technique.
Notice also that whatever your walking rhythm, fast or slow, you can always bring your attention back to your breathing. Remember that the sensation and rhythm of your breathing is also your grounding technique, your anchor of awareness.
Notice that however much your dog pulls ahead or pauses to sniff, you can always bring your focus back to your breathing and the rhythm, faster or slower, of your walking. Remember that you always have the option to verbally tag your breaths or steps with a number or a word to draw your attention to the technique. One. In. Breathe. Step. One. Out. Breathe. Step.
And if you notice your mind is pulling you towards a thought or a story or a worry, you can always, and you can do this instantly, bring your focus back to your anchors of awareness.
You have the rest of the day to think and worry, for now, stay with your dog, your breathing, and the rhythm of your walk.
For the final minute of this meditation, just focus on your breathing and walking. Focus on the continuous motion of your inhalation and exhalation and how this fills your lungs, pumps your heart, and energizes your muscles. Focus also on the continuous motion of your strides, one foot first, and then the other foot.
I hope you enjoyed this walking meditation.