A lot of people confuse meditation or presence with the stereotypical sit-on-the-floor-all-pretzel-like-and-say-ohm-till-you're-zoned-out characters on TV shows. There is nothing zoned-out about mindful walking or walking meditation, especially with a furry friend. It is a little more complicated than just walking by yourself in a secluded setting. You have to be aware of cars, crossing streets, the message you are sending down the leash, communicating turns or commands if you have certain rules about other dogs, distractions, pedestrians, or cars. (Ollie has to sit on the shoulder for cars coming from behind him. He used to be so afraid of things he couldn't see, he'd run without thinking -- a very dangerous habit that had to be corrected.)
There are so many great websites on walking meditation, but here are a few of my tips:
- The key is to be kind to yourself. Wear comfortable clothing, drink water before you go, don't worry about how far you are going to walk. This is not training for a 20K charity walk. It is training for being mindful and aware. Listen to your body. If in the spring and summer you are too hot or feel winded, dizzy, or otherwise woozy while walking, sit down for a minute or stand and lean against a tree or building in the shade. If on a cold day you find your hands and feet are losing feeling, maybe it is time to go inside and warm up.
- You aren't going to be able to connect with your breathing if your dog is over-excited and pulling you everywhere. You're going to be fighting him the whole way. Let your dog run around outside before you go, throw a ball, tire him out a little. Let him have a good drink of water. Dogs really don't need sweaters and coats until it is well below 30 degrees. Unless the dog is small and has fur with no undercoat (Italian Greyhound, Min-Pins, etc) or is almost naked (Chinese Crested, Chihuahuas, groomed Poodles, etc.) they probably don't need any people clothes on a walk. If your pooch does need outerwear, check periodically to make sure there is no rubbing or chafing.
- When just out walking your dog, practice good leash habits. It doesn't really matter if the dog is in front of you a little or behind you. What matters is there is no leash-pulling.
- When you and your pooch start off, begin walking a little faster than normal. The increased heart rate forces your body to start breathing correctly and really accepting your breath. You may naturally begin breathing in your nose and out your mouth. Plus, a little feel-good endorphins never hurt anyone, right?
- After about four or five minutes, slow down a bit and let your breath fall into a natural rhythm. Don't expend the energy trying to force yourself to breathe in or out on a certain step, just notice when you do breathe. Lengthen your stride to fit the rhythm of your breath.
- This is about the time where one of two things will happen with your walking partner. Either he will sense your changing mental state and join you in it, falling into step beside you, or he will feel you starting to relax and take it as an opportunity for free-for-all leash time. If you experience the second response, you and pooch need more leash time and more training walks. (Tomorrow's post)
- Soft-focus your eyes, relaxing the muscles in your face, forehead, and around your eyes. Be aware of your step, hear your breath. As thoughts or feelings surface, don't try to ignore them, rather acknowledge them and let them go as if they were the trees or houses you are passing. To help you remember to praise your dog for good leash behavior, choose an object ahead of you. Do not focus on that object, just use it as a guide. When you pass it, give soft and calm verbal praise.
- Smile at people you pass. Smiling is important. "Sometimes the source of your smile is joy. Your smile can also be the source of your joy." --Thich Nhat Hahn