My New Walking Meditation Regime: How to stay sane, calm and fit in the middle of a pandemic...
Pre-COVID-19 I spent most days at home alone, writing, so not much has changed for me. I am still keeping to my morning writing schedule. The thing I miss most is going out in the evenings to meet friends, and attend my Zumba class, a source of exercise and camaraderie. So how to stay sane and calm and fit in the midst of the daily firestorm of bad news? In 2008 I went through a personal crisis and decided to walk the 778-mile route known as the El Camino in Spain. It took 7 weeks to walk from Pamplona to Finisterre on the coast, walking in silence in the mornings and meditating. But I found that experience profound and healing. So I decided it was time to go walking and meditating again.
We are still allowed outside and walking is one of the best things we can do for our bodies right now. When we walk, we use all the major systems of the body: the musculoskeletal system, the respiratory system, (so important now) but also the neurological system. When we swing our arms and legs we naturally engage the different quadrants of the brain. We also lower our fight, flight and freeze response, which many of us are going into now with the steady stream of frightening news around the world, and the worries they inevitably brings up.
Combining walking with meditating doubles the fun and the serotonin hit—that feel good hormone that helps us calm down. Meditating not only soothes our troubled minds, it lengthens our lives, supporting our telomeres those genius little caps at the ends of our DNA, cellular indicators of stress and life span. Meditating increases our mental and spiritual immunity to all of life’s ills. But sitting down and meditating is difficult to do when you’re in fight or flight or deeply stressed. So I combine walking with meditation, which helps the body and the mind to calm down together.
So this is my new daily practice to combat the pandemic of scary thoughts in my head. And this is how I’m doing it: I start out by setting my intention. Say a little prayer: May this walk benefit my body, speech and mind, and all those who come into contact with me today. Then I start walking and sighing. Sighing naturally elongates the exhale and doubles the life-giving oxygen of the inhale, without much effort. It's also a great way to let go of fear or anger. After a few minutes of sighing, I form my fingers into the Inana mudra, touching my first finger with my thumb .This is the mudra for individual soul connecting with universal or world soul. And as my former Buddhist teacher, Dekyi-Lee Oldershaw used to say, it creates a closed circuit through the heart, therefore activating and supporting the heart. It also indicates to my subconscious mind that this is a sacred walk, and I automatically slow down, breath more deeply, relax and become more mindful. I walk like that in silence. For fifteen minutes or more. Just being present in nature. Taking in the green therapy. And listening. If I find myself worrying, I sigh and go back to listening and breathing. Simple but not easy. But you cannot make a mistake.
Hopefully this little practice will get me through the next few weeks without panicking too much. Although I’m sure there will be some of that. It is my daily reprieve from the chaos. It’s a bit lonely doing it alone. So I just wanted to share that with you, my fellow loners, self-isolators, and quarantined souls. Out there in the world, battling the pandemic with me, together but apart, one breath at a time. May you be free of suffering, may you be at peace. And may you go walking and meditating.