Practicing Mindfulness While Hiking
* This post was originally written for The Outbound Collective
Be in the now
A few months ago while in a yoga class my teacher challenged us to be in the now. She caught me off guard because of course my mind was wandering and for the remainder of the class it was somewhat of a challenge for me to keep my mind from wandering. She went on to challenge us to try and practice mindfulness every day, in every moment. This has been particularly challenging for me because I love to let my mind wander, but I've been trying to reel the ole' girl back in and live more in the moment whenever I can.
Usually when I hike I let my mind wander near and far. I dwell over hypothetical conversations, think about future trips, what I want for dinner that night, etc. In the last few months I've been trying to bring my mind back to hiking and make it a little less mindless. Listen to my breathing, my feet connecting with the earth, the sounds around me and the smells. I've always done this to some extent but never with deep intent or purpose and it's changed my hikes (and runs) for the better. Just a little disclaimer, I don't hiking and run like this all the time because a big reason I hike and run is to let my mind lose, but I try to incorporate this into my activities for, at the very least, 15-20 minutes. So, here are my tips for practicing mindfulness while hiking:
Set an Intention Before You Start
Go into your hike with the intent to have a mindful hike. Before you start your hike, stop at the beginning of the trail and set intentions with yourself to keep as clear as a mind as you can and to be in the present moment as much as you can. Take a few breaths and bring your mind to the present. If something in particular has been on your mind, let it go for the time being.
Focus On Your Breath
If your mind really wanders and you're having problems staying in the present focus on your breath. Intentionally breath in and out and find a rhythm with your steps. This usually happens naturally for most hikers but bring your awareness back to your breath and really focus on it.
Pause Throughout Your Hike To Reset
If you become aware of your mind wandering just stop and take a minute to reset. Let your arms hang loosely by your side and tune in to your senses and walk through each one. What do you see, hear, smell, feel? Be mindful of everything around you and bring yourself back into the moment. You can also say to yourself "I am here" and make yourself think about where you are in that present moment.
Inhale the Good, Exhale the Crap
If silencing your mind is proving difficult try inhaling and exhaling with words. For example, sometimes if I can't get my mind to stop racing from the day and focusing on my breath isn't working I'll inhale while literally mumbling in my head "positivity" and exhale the bullshit by quite literally exhaling and thinking "allll the bullshit." This is interchangeable, if your mind really can't let go of something in particular change your inhales and exhales to focus on that. If you had a bad day at work, exhale what was bad and inhale positivity; if you're having trouble in a relationship, exhale to let go and inhale positivity.
Mindful hiking isn't always easy for me, and it may not be for some of you. I find that it's easiest for me to practice on trails that I've already hiked multiple times. For me, those are the trails where my mind wanders the most because it isn't new or exciting terrain and views.
Give it a try!