Want to calm your restless mind? Take a deep breath. As simple as it sounds, how you breathe can improve your mood, reduce stress and calm you down. And synching a relaxed breathing pattern with your daily walk – breathwalking – multiplies the emotional and physical benefits of both.
Breathwalking fuses deep-breathing exercises with walking. (Think of it as yoga or tai chi set to a walking pace.) Part workout, part meditative exercise, it’s a multi-tasker¹s dream. “You get the benefits of meditation and a reasonably brisk walk at the same time,” says walking teacher and writer Maggie Spilner. “It’s a very practical form of exercise and meditation, so it’s good for the restless.”
Take a breath
Breathwalking has 16 different breathing patterns; Spilner recommends the Eagle, a four-part one that she says is the easiest to master. Just familiarize yourself with this technique before you strap on your running shoes and head out the door. Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap. Inhale through your nose in four short breaths. Spilner likens it to taking a short sniff, pausing and taking another. Then exhale through your nose in four parts. Feel your belly and ribcage expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale, emptying your lungs.
Hit the road
Once you have a handle on the technique, take it outside. Enhance the experience by seeking out a tranquil green space. Spilner suggests a trail or park, somewhere “you can walk without interruption and enjoy the beauty of nature.” Now put the Eagle in your stride. With each short inhale, step forward. Inhale and step, inhale and step – working up to four steps and inhales. Now add a step to each short exhale to the count of four. Keep going, trying to make the pattern continuous and flowing.
Head up, shoulders back
Don’t forget about your posture. Keep your head up, your shoulders soft, your chest lifted, and your gaze softly on the path in front of you as you walk and breathe. Your gait can be moderate or brisk, says Spilner. The real goal is to match your step to your breath.
Pay attention to your breathing and become more aware of your environment, says Spilner. “By focusing on your breath and walking you calm the mind – but don’t close your eyes. Connect with the feeling of the temperature on your skin, the smells, the blue skies and the trees.”
Don’t overdo it on your first outing. Allow yourself to take breathing breaks, especially if you feel dizzy. Start with one or two minutes of structured breathing followed by a few minutes of your own natural breathing. “Like interval training, you start with short periods of segmented breathing and take breaks, returning to normal breathing. As you get more proficient, you increase the length of time that you maintain the structured, segmented breathing and reduce the breaks,” says Spilner. Over time, build up to consistent structured breathing for 20 minutes.