I never learned mindful walking as a kid nor did I ever even hear about it until my first Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course in my early 20’s. Shortly after that, my practice of mindful walking deepened when I went on my first retreat with hundreds of participants in the rolling hills of southern Vermont and a morning mindful walk was part of the ritual. From that simple practice of mindful walking, a mindful awareness began to permeate many other daily activities and my life and outlook began to fundamentally change.
But a few childhood memories stand out from before I ever learned mindful walking and these still resonate in my teaching kids and teens today. One of my favorite memories is the sweet Audobon Society camp where I spent a number of summers growing up. One particularly vivid memory stands out to me: a group of eight-year-olds walking in the woods, following our counselors’ instructions to make no sound and leave no trace. In that way, we would walk softly on the earth, not frighten away the animals, and be able to see more on our journey. Although, as an adult, I look back and wonder if maybe the counselors were just trying to get us to quiet down.
Regardless, it was years later doing the silent walking on the Vermont retreat that I reflected back on those childhood memories of walking silently in the woods. It takes so much intentional focus, concentration, body awareness, and deliberate intention, or mindfulness
With this inspiration in mind I want to share six ways we can bring more mindfulness into walking for kids and teens
Mindful Walking Practices for Kids and Teens
1) Silent Walking
Like my own experience as a kid, the basic instruction here is simply to walk as silently as possible.
When we deliberately walk as silently as possible, whether it’s over a carpet, creaky floor boards, or crunchy leaves on the forest floor, we are marshalling all of our attention to the act of walking, aware of the sounds and sensations in our muscles and at the soles of our feet. What’s more, making something playful is one of the best ways to teach, and certainly one of the most fun ways to learn. Find a reason to be a spy or scout, a Ninja, a tracker, or someone else who has to move in absolute silence, leaving no trail behind them, and watch how attention and awareness shift right into the present.
2) Silly Walking
I believe that Jan Chozen Bays is the first one who was inspired by the old Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks
3) Walk As If…
It’s not just walking in silence or silliness that can inspire greater awareness. As a teen and tween, theater games like walking as different characters or with different emotions brought me and my fellow theater friends right into the moment with new awareness. Or, as one drama teacher reminded me at a workshop I led, what you learn in performance is presence,
You can call out the different characters below, or write these and more on popsicle sticks or cards and have kids pick them out and switch every so often.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Walk like a sugar-addled five year old.
- Walk like a heartbroken teenager.
- Walk like you just won the lottery.
- Walk like your team just lost a big game.
- Walk like you are heading to see an old friend.
- Walk like you are in a big hurry.
- Walk like you are going into a math test you haven’t studied for.
- Walk like yourself.
I always love adding “walk like yourself” into this practice because it again helps boost awareness of our body in different emotional states, including what our usual emotional state is on any given day. When we discuss what thoughts and feelings come up, kids often talk about noticing when they walked like they were sad they didn’t see as much, or when they were in a hurry, they cared less about other people. These can be powerful insights and lead us to…
4) Appreciative Walking
Positive psychology helps us remember to notice what’s going well in the world, appreciate the beauty or “take in the good” as Rick Hanson likes to say. This simple practice just encourages us not to move in any particular way, but to notice the beauty in the world around us. We can try to notice the life growing in the midst of the city, or the beauty or changes in what we see on a daily walk.
5) Balancing Acts
Walking is fundamentally about listening to and balancing our bodies. Watch a baby learn to walk and you can see how much deliberate attention goes to just standing up without toppling over. When we are a little older, balance is not such an issue, but we can add a balance challenge and with it, more awareness. You can make a little competition or have fun with these practices:
- Walk a tightrope, or simply imagine that you are.
- Balance an egg on a spoon and walk.
- Try to balance something on your head as you walk.
- Walk with coins or action figures balanced on the toes of your shoes.
6) Classic Mindful Walking
Riding a bike, lifting weights, sweating it out on a treadmill—each can be a mindfulness practice. Whatever the physical activity, instead of simply working out to master a skill or improve your condition, you can move and breathe in a way that shifts you from feeling busy and distracted to feeling strong and capable. Read More