Why Your Mind Loves Hiking
Oct 02, 2018 11:19PM
I started hiking right around the time I began regularly practicing mindfulness and meditation. What I realized early on was that on days when I hike, I don’t need to meditate. The hike, when performed with the right intentions, is my mindfulness practice.
I initially thought of hiking as a great way to get exercise, but it quickly became much more than that. For me, it soothes my mind while it nourishes my body, alleviating stress and anxiety.
I like to hike at least three days a week. On those days, the most amazing thing happens to me—and it always happens. As soon as I get a few miles from home in the direction of a trailhead, my mood begins to elevate and a rush of endorphins envelope me. A smile invariably comes to my face, and I thank God and the universe that I have such a wealth of natural beauty around me, and the health and energy to enjoy it.
Here are some tips for hiking mindfully:
- When selecting a hike, make sure you know where you’re going, how much time you have and whether your stamina and energy match the route you’re considering. The key factors here are distance, terrain and elevation gain. You can evaluate these factors by using a hiking map and consulting with various hiking resources in print and online. Most of them rate trails from Easy to Strenuous or Difficult. Start slowly, adding miles and elevation gain as you begin moving more effectively and building endurance.
- When on the trail, focus on your breathing, as well as the sights, sounds and scents and the feeling of the ground under your feet. Pay close attention to the placement of your feet so you don’t trip on tree roots or twist your ankle on rocks. And watch for loose dirt, moss or wet leaves on hard surfaces, as these can be slippery.
- Your mind may wander to what you are doing next, or simply finishing the hike. When it does, focus on your breathing and the trail. Bring yourself back into the moment and what you are experiencing through all your senses. Focus on the journey, not the destination or the next activity.
- Be sure to stretch before and after hiking, as you would with other sports. During a longer hike, I will often stop periodically to stretch my calves and hamstrings. Do not rush. Keep a pace that allows you to take everything in and walk with care and intention. This will help you avoid injury and strengthen your joints and flexibility over time. Most of all, have fun and enjoy!