Meditation has been tagged with some interesting stereotypes over the years. Many people think you have to be in a dark, quiet room with your legs crossed and eyes closed, doing some kind of “ohm” chant to meditate properly.
That’s just not true.
Meditation can take many forms – including hiking and backpacking. If those are hobbies you already love, it’s time to consider how they can help you feel re-centered and reduce your stress levels while you’re on the trail.
Many spiritual leaders have touted the effectiveness of walking meditation, and you can apply those principles to your hikes by being more mindful on each journey. If you’ve never meditated before, it can take some practice to connect physical activity to a clearing of the mind. But, hiking is already a great way to improve your mental and physical health. Adding meditation to your walks can help you feel more connected with the earth, and yourself.
Let’s cover some of the benefits of hiking as meditation and how you can set clear intentions for your treks.
The Benefits of a Mindful Hike
There’s no question that simply spending time in nature is good for your health. It reduces stress and anxiety and can offer a boost of energy. Taking things one step further (no pun intended) through walking meditation can offer even greater benefits to your physical and mental well-being. Some of the “perks” you can expect from being more mindful on your hikes include:
- Increased blood flow
- Improved digestion
- Reduced anxiety
- Improved circulation
- Better sleep quality
- Enhanced balance
Walking meditation also helps with symptoms of depression and anxiety and can boost your creativity levels if it feels like you’ve been in a slump lately. Combining mindfulness with regular outdoor exercise, like hiking, is also a fantastic way to naturally boost testosterone levels (which can decrease with age). That will lead to a clearer mind and greater physical awareness while also promoting strength and vitality.
How to Meditate On the Trail
Ready to give hiking as meditation a try for yourself?
Again, you don’t have to worry about specific chants or keeping your eyes closed while you walk – that would probably do more harm than good with trees around! Walking meditation is easier than you might think. Try the following steps to break down the process until it becomes more familiar.
- Find a spot on the trail or a clearing in a wooded area that will allow you to freely walk back and forth about 10 to 15 feet.
- Stroll throughout that area slowly as you breathe deeply and take in your surroundings.
- Take slow, intentional, mindful steps, and focus on sensations that you usually don’t notice. That could include how your feet and legs feel while moving, or the rhythm of your breathing. It could even include the gentle “thud” your feet make with each step. The more you focus on yourself and the world around you at that moment, the more mindful and present you’ll be.
You may have other thoughts come to mind. That’s out of your control, and you don’t have to work to “block” those thoughts out. There’s nothing you can do to prevent both positive and negative ideas from entering your mind, but think of them like clouds passing by. Don’t hold onto them, and do your best to refocus on the present.
You can continue to be mindful throughout your hike, paying attention to how your body feels with each step forward while also observing the sights, sounds, and smells of your surroundings. It’s a wonderful way to manage your anxiety while hiking and to feel more relaxed by the time you’re finished.
While meditating on a hike is a wonderful way to feel more connected with the earth and your natural surroundings, it’s important not to bite off more than you can chew. If you’re new to hiking, familiarize yourself with certain trails and build up your strength and stamina before you try to meditate on your journey. You’ll still enjoy wonderful mental and physical health benefits, simply by exercising in nature.
Additionally, if you deal with chronic pain or you’re trying to recover from an injury, use a pain scale to determine if you’re ready to be active again. Pushing through the pain or trying to force yourself to get back on the trail can end up hindering your performance. You’ll also be so focused on that pain that it will be nearly impossible to be mindful and present.
Whether you’re just getting into hiking or you’ve been hitting the trail for years, there are more benefits than we could ever think to list here. Using hiking as meditation, however, adds to that list and can help you feel more in tune with the world around you while reducing your stress levels. If you’re ready for that step, try to introduce walking meditation into your next hike.