There’s something very special about the Texas Hill Country in the spring time. It has a lot to do with the bluebonnets and all the other wildflowers that splash our lawns and roadsides with bright colors. There is an unspoken agreement between neighbors and residents of the Hill Country to mow around the flowers, preserving nature’s exclamations of beauty and life as long as we can. With the butterflies dancing about the flowers, the birds singing in symphony in the trees, and the sweet smells of honeysuckle lingering on soft breezes, it is the absolute perfect time to venture outside for some yogic walking!
You might be wondering what that means. What makes yogic walking any different from regular old walking? The answer is not much. It’s really a matter of focus, intention, adding in some stretches at the end of your walk, and of course, offering yourself the wonderful gift of savasana to close your practice. Yogic walking is an excellent way to bring your practice out of the classroom and into your home environment. It offers an aerobic element and can help bring awareness around tendencies in your everyday postural alignment you might not have noticed before.
To get started with a yogic walking practice, choose a pleasant route (in your neighborhood, at a nearby park, etc.) that will take about 20-30 minutes to complete (1/2 to 3/4 mile, depending on your pace). If you want, begin with a 5-10 minute centering. You can center yourself in whatever way feels right for you. You might sit for a few moments, just noticing your breath, your physical body, and then your thoughts and emotions. The intention here is to acknowledge what is happening internally for you and to invite your awareness into your present moment experience.
Begin walking with a slow pace, paying attention to the sensation of your feet meeting the ground with each step. Notice if you are walking solidly, with all parts of your feet (except your arch) contacting the ground. If not, are you tending toward walking on the outer edges of your feet or the inner edges? Notice if this way of walking feels supportive for you. Is there discomfort in any parts of your body, like your knees, hips, or thighs? Make any adjustments in your gait that feel supportive for you.
Having checked in with your feet, find your perfect walking stride. You want to keep a brisk pace that will raise your heartbeat, but not so fast that your posture suffers. Often times, when we try to walk too fast, our body compensates by leaning forward. This can strain the back and neck. Your perfect stride should allow you to keep your shoulders aligned over your hips. Just as in Mountain Pose, stabilize your core by drawing your abdominals toward your spine and encourage a long spine by lengthening up through your crown. As you find the pace that best supports your ability to maintain this postural alignment, notice how it feels. Is it different from the way you normally walk? What is different about it?
Having checked in with your postural alignment, notice your breath. Breathing in and out through your nose, establish a rhythm that supports your level of aerobic activity. Meditate on your breath, witnessing its sensations as you inhale and exhale. Notice how focusing on your breath helps to keep your awareness anchored in your present experience. Are there any scents in the air? Honeysuckle, fresh-cut grass, burning wood, laundry, food cooking? What sounds do you hear? Birds chirping, dogs barking, treetops rustling, kids laughing? What about sensations in your body? Breezes kissing your skin, sweat trickling from your hairline, sun raising the hairs along your arms? Or perhaps there is a discomfort in part of your body. Perhaps an adjustment in your pace, gait, or posture would be helpful.
Just like when you are practicing yoga on your mat, yogic walking is all about diving into your present experience. Often times, when we go for a walk, our minds race with thoughts. All sorts of worries, plans, lists, imaginings, etc. preoccupy our minds, so that we arrive at the end of our walk feeling just as stressed and/or distracted as we were at the start. Yogic walking invites our minds to relax and simply enjoy, moment to moment, all the little beauties inherent to nature.
At the close of your walk, find a quiet space where you can cool down and stretch. If you want, light a candle or an incense. Sit down in easy pose and take a couple of falling out breaths. Continuing to breathe with a steady, even pace in and out through your nose, bring your right ear to your right shoulder, with your left hand on the floor to stretch your left shoulder. Hold a few breaths and then switch sides. From here, you want to stretch all your major muscles (hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, calves, back and abdominals.) If you want, you can complete the flow of postures suggested below, holding each for 5 breaths.
- Forward Bend (flexing your feet to stretch the calves)
- Pigeon (each leg)
- Extended Child
- Cow Face (or Triceps Stretch)
- Knees to Chest (lying down)
- Happy Baby
- Knee Down Twist
No matter which stretches you choose, be sure to give yourself the gift of savasana at the end of your practice. As you lie in savasana, scan through each of your body parts, relaxing each muscle as your body settles into the support of the ground beneath you. You can stay here as long as you like, but try to be with stillness for at least 3-5 minutes.
I wish you joy, peace, and balance as you embark on your yogic walk! Namaste.