A Lesson Learned From Our Four Legged Friends
Never underestimate the power of fresh air, exercise and time with your thoughts.
Spending time with your pets is a major stress reliever. Research has shown that being around a dog in particular lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol and dampens other physiological stress responses. This is very evident with veterans who rely on service dogs to help them cope with post traumatic stress disorder. But, there is more to stress relief than just hanging out with a canine compatriot.
You don’t have to run out and adopt a puppy in order to feel this level of stress relief, but I’m not discouraging that either. An equally advantageous activity for stress relief is regular exercise. I’m not talking about high impact, sweat a bucket, no pain no gain, rip your shirt off, hardcore cross-fit iron pumping. I am talking about a regular, light and easy walk around the block. The sort of walk that you would take a few times a day if you did in fact have a puppy at home.
Another factor of regular dog walking-like exercise that contributes to stress relief is nature. Studies show that getting out into nature can help restore your sense of well being as you become attuned to the natural beauty around you and your own heartbeat.
A regular easy stroll through nature, without any distractions such as cell phones or music will, with practice, transport you into a somewhat hypnotic, meditative state. This state is in fact referred to as; Walking Meditation.
A walking meditation of as little as 10 minutes a day is an easy way to inflict a world of change to your health, both physically and mentally.
Here are a couple tips to help you get the most out of walking meditation:
- First find a location.
Ideally, you are looking for a walking path that is well integrated with nature, someplace that you will not have to worry about vehicle traffic and the less crowded the better. The goal is to eliminate as many distractions as possible. In a pinch though, any decent stretch of sidewalk or neighborhood loop will do just fine.
- Start walking.
Simple right…find a place to walk and then walk in that place. This alone will benefit your mind and body immensely.
Putting yourself in a meditative state will take a few more steps though:
- Think deliberately
Meditation involves focus and attention on specific small tasks. Conscientiously focus on the movement required to lift your foot, moving it forward, placing it down, shifting your weight, and repeating with the next foot.
Obviously, right? Only now be sure to realize your breathing, feel your lungs fill and empty, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Try not to lose focus or get distracted.
- What to do with your hands.
When focusing this intently on your steps and breathing, it can become overly complicated and confusing on how you are supposed to be swinging your arms. Sounds silly I know, but you will see. So, avoid that action altogether and clasp your hands together behind your back as you stroll.
No matter how focused you are in the beginning, your mind will inevitably wander. This is completely normal so don’t get discouraged. When you notice your mind wandering, re-focus on your movements and breath. Feel all of the sensations that you would normally take for granted, your balance and the sensation of the ground beneath your feet.
If you can integrate this short and easy activity into your daily routine, whether or not you have a dog to walk, it will start to become second nature and you will begin to be able to apply this meditative state to your other daily activities.