For many of us, The Great Trail is an outdoor gym – a place to improve our physical fitness while discovering Canada’s incredible landscapes. But did you know that the Trail also offers us an opportunity to take care of our mental health?
Activities like mindful walking in the outdoors can help free our minds from “mental clutter” and everyday stress. For some, it helps to instill a sense of inner calm; for others, it can offer solutions to problems that might have seemed daunting before.
Don’t just take our word for it though! In 2016, a study showed that combining mindfulness with walking could help combat stress while delivering other notable health benefits. Meanwhile, a Canadian Parks Council report found that most Canadians feel happier after spending time in nature.
Discover how you can reap the benefits of mindful walking with these five tips:
1. Choose the right Trail section for you
Mindful walking is about getting back to nature, but that doesn’t mean you have to retreat to the wilderness. You may prefer to find serenity on an urban Trail section, like Toronto’s Waterfront Trail. Perhaps you’d like somewhere more secluded, like the Goat Creek Trail in Alberta.
While short, circular trails are often better for mindful walks, go with what feels right for you.
2. Take a break from tech
As tempting as it may be to tune into a Spotify playlist or your favourite podcast, take an opportunity to spend some time away from your devices. Even better, put your devices in Do Not Disturb mode for the duration for your walk.
3. Walk at a comfortable pace
Walk at a natural speed, and pay attention to the rise and fall of your foot as you take each step. Don’t try to walk faster or slower – simply observe your steps as they are. Notice the feeling of breathing in and out, and try to come back to this feeling if your mind wanders off.
Place your hands where they feel most comfortable – at your sides, behind your back or on your belly.
While bringing your attention to the sensation of walking, be aware of what’s happening all around you, including traffic, other people or road signals.
4. Pause and be present
At various points along your Trail section of choice, take a break and spend a few minutes noticing the various sensations around you. Do you hear the wind blowing through trees, or the rush of a flowing river? Do you smell fragrant flowers, or fresh sea air? What colours can you see?
Take a mental note of everything you perceive during this short break, before returning to your walk.
5. End with a moment of stillness
Once you’re ready to finish your walk, stand tall and still, pausing for another moment of awareness and peace.