Putting my phone away, even for an hour, can be excruciating for me. It's the last thing I look at when I go to bed and the first thing I check when I wake up (love that moment when I lay down and night and say "Set alarm for 5:45am" and Siri says "Ok!" ). I use my phone to meditate, listening to Omvana tracks through headphones to center myself and the Equanimity app to time how long I sit. I use my phone to hike, using RunKeeper to track my distance.
But when I hike and meditate? Then I put the phone away (or turn it to airplane mode), because I don't want anything to come between me and the orange-sherbet glow of a winter sunset or the quiet whisper of the wind through the trees. Those are the moments where I get to practice “aimless wandering” (and it doesn't even involve a Target store).
Still, I'm not just in it for the peace and tranquility: as a dyed-in-the-wool multi-tasker, hiking meditation can kill two birds with one stone: exercise and meditation. (If only I could also write - I'd hit all three of my daily goals at once).
What is hiking meditation?
You might have heard of walking meditation, which is where you walk and meditate at the same time (eyes open!), paying attention to how your body feels as you focus on the present. So hiking meditation is simply a variation of walking meditation - easier because hiking is a little bit more physically demanding than walking, but as is often the case, higher physical demands makes it easier to focus.
How hiking meditation works
Walking meditation starts when you begin walking, focusing your mind on your breath and the way your feet feel against the ground. Thoughts and anxieties might show up and start knocking around your psyche, like how you’re going to get that project at work finished or why your teenager won't say more than five words to you, but your only job is to detach from any judgment of those thoughts. Hold them up like an interesting stone or strange-looking toadstool you come across: “Huh, that’s interesting.” Your next move is to then simply release those thoughts out into the breeze, like a dandelion seed that floats up among the tree branches and away from this exact present moment.
Stay in the moment.
It can be hard to hold yourself there, but when you’re hiking, somehow it's much easier to watch how each moment folds into the next. It still takes practice, but it's hard to worry about your finances at the same time as admiring the exact way the sun breaks through clouds or how the woods smell after fresh snow.
Hiking meditation script
Some of us just need to know exactly how exactly hiking meditation works so that we can secretly be the the valedictorian of hiking meditation. I suggest you use the following script either by reading it one or two times before you set out on your hike, or record your voice reading it into your phone's memo function, and listen to it as you hike. You probably only need to do this once or twice, and then you'll remember how it works.
First, find the spot on the path where your hike will begin. Center yourself. Take a few cleansing breaths. Simply notice how the weight of your body is transferred down the soles of your hiking boots into the ground. Take a moment just to notice all the small little acts of balance that allow you to stand upright -- realize how often you take this amazing ability for granted.
After you're centered and quiet, step forward and begin to walk at a normal pace. You don't need to walk in any special way, just notice the way you walk. If your body starts to fall into a funny gait once you become aware of your walking, don't worry. This is totally natural.
Keep focusing on the soles of your feet, noticing the repeating motions of how it feels to plant your foot, then lift it into the next motion. How does your foot feel as your heel first makes contact, then the as the foot then rolls forward towards the ball. Be aware of how your foot then lifts and moves forward again. Visualize how your feet move over and over through this pattern as you walk.
As you walk, notice all the different sensations in your feet. Move from feeling the soles of your feet...to the spaces between your toes...to how your feet feel inside of your shoes, noticing the fabric of your socks. Relax your feet as much as possible. Notice your ankles; become aware of the inner workings of your joints and how they feel when you move. Stay there for awhile, just noticing. Now move up your legs: feel your shins, calves and knees.
Notice how your skin feels where it comes in contact with your clothes. What does the temperature feel like? How do your muscles push, pull and contract under your skin?
Now move up into your quadriceps (the front of your thighs), then notice your hamstrings, and your glutes (butt muscles). Feel how they push off and work together. Notice how your hips move in a certain rhythm: one first, then the other, moving back and forth.
Focus on your stomach, your gut, and its temperature. Notice how it's the center of your body, and how it is the very center of you and where the walking motion gets its power. Then move up into your chest and just notice your breathing. Again, focus on how your clothes feel on your skin, the temperature. Stay here for just a few minutes. If any interrupting thoughts come up, simply think to yourself "Thinking, thinking" and let them go.
Now become aware of your shoulders and take note of how they move with your body - opposite the rhythm of your hips. Let your arms swing naturally with the rhythm of your gait. Take a moment to wonder at the motion of your arms, the muscles, nerves and blood vessels that are all working inside to move together. Notice the sensitive parts, like the inside of your wrist or the crook of your elbow. Feel how the breeze moves across these places and the sensations that wash over you.
Now notice your neck and how the muscles hold up your head. What about the angle of your skull? How does it feel? This part is important: let your jaw relax. Then relax your eyes, softly focusing on whatever is in front of you, picking something on the horizon.
Keep moving. Keep noticing. Whenever your mind starts to wander, come back to your breath. Some people like to focus on the nostrils, feeling the air move in and out there; others prefer to notice how their lungs feel as the breath fills them up. Try both.
Finally, when you're at the end of your hike/meditation, simply stop naturally and quietly, and just feel yourself standing.
You'll come off the hike feeling mentally and physically refreshed — like a raw kale salad for your soul. Now, feel free to pull out your phone and check Facebook. You've earned it.
Jill Hinton Wolfe