Ever since I was young I haven’t really liked walking. I always wanted to be running, racing, swimming, cycling, competing. Walking felt too passive, like I was doing nothing. And I am a doer.
As I got older, I tried to embrace the joy of a gentle amble with a friend, a walk in nature, a Sunday stroll. Yet it always felt like I was doing nothing. And then along came Archie – a reason surely to go out for a ramble. At first, walking with Arch was a struggle – he was always pulling, I worried he would drag me into the road and kill us both. And as he grew I became more anxious – would he bump into an old person with his 37 kilos and knock them over, slobber all over a tiny passing child frightening them? I found it stressful. But as we worked together as a team, the walking became easier, and it felt less of a chore.
The issue is some days, however, I simply don’t fancy walking him. It could be because I am poorly, it could be due to tiredness, or even sometimes it just feels like there are not enough hours in the day. But… he needs his walk, and I love him, so it’s something I have to do. And what I have observed over the past weeks is that each time we take a walk, however much I may not fancy it before, I always feel better mentally afterwards.
Now some may say it’s the exercise. It’s good to take a walk, especially for someone like me who can’t do anything more vigorous at the moment. Yet, I know it is far more than that. I made a decision when I first got Archie that I would never walk him whilst on my mobile phone and he would always have my full attention on our daily outings. This would be his time and we would together be in the present moment (not that he isn’t always – he’s a dog!). And other than on 2 occasions when I broke my pledge (and understandably Archie took great advantage of it!) I have stuck to this. So when we go for a walk, often in the woods, I would call our walks ‘mindful’.
As some of you may know Day 20 of our 21-Day toolkit is all about awe walks. Research has shown that experiencing the emotion of awe can have a positive impact on our mental state, and taking a walk that encourages that feeling of awe (by looking at a beautiful lake, the stars at night, anything that feels vast and ‘bigger’ than us) is a good way of doing this.
Now I definitely don’t do an ‘awe walk’ every day, but I do consciously breathe slowly and take deep breaths when I am walking; I look at the trees, the grass, the sky, the surroundings. I listen for birds and other sounds. And I feel the breeze on my face, the ground beneath my feet; smell the scents in the air (ideally not dogs’!) – and generally try to be mindful. Sometimes Arch and I will play together, and for sure sometimes my mind will wander. But for the most part, that hour’s walk is calming (bar the odd dog incident!), slow, and gives me time to truly breathe.
So when I return I always feel a ‘shift’, however small. I am better than when I departed, and definitely calmer. My brain resets and if only for a brief time, the worries quieten and the present moment takes over.
So Hubbers, you may or may not be a fan of walking (my friend Dimple loves hikes and I am thinking it’s a future plan for Arch and me!), you may be like me a reluctant ambler, or you may have a pastime that delivers the same results. But give a walk a go. With or without dog. An awe walk, a mindful walk, or just a gentle stroll. Happy ambling (or rambling) Hubbers!