​Think you can’t have a mindful moment when you’re out and about? This walking meditation from psychotherapist Owen O’Kane will help you think again…

Meditation is often associated with bells, chants and gongs. I often hear people say ‘it’s not for me’ as they assume it’s a practice for people who are religious, yogis or of an ethereal personality. The reality is meditation can be helpful for everyone because we all share one thing in common, our ‘busy’ minds. Meditation can help soothe us, and who knew we could meditate while walking? There is considerable evidence available to support the benefits for anxiety, depression, stress, panic disorder, pain management, sports performance, concentration and sleep.

The human mind produces around 60,000-80,000 thoughts per day, and it’s estimated that around 60 percent of these thoughts can be negative in nature. Our minds are often in threat mode looking out for danger or problems when it’s not necessary. This creates a lot of noise and activity in our heads which of course contributes to stress, anxiety and impacts on mood. Meditation helps as it encourages you to bring focus of attention to one area and recognise when you have been distracted. Every time you are distracted, return to the point of focus and this helps create order with the brain’s neuropathway system. Consequently, the mind quietens, and its plasticity (flexibility) improves over time. What better place to do this than on your walk!

How to do a meditative walk

I think that, when most people go for a walk, they spend a lot of time overthinking, or distracted by headphones. This has the potential to be counterproductive as it’s either not giving the mind space or it increases worry. Next time you go for a walk I suggest a different approach, a meditative walk. Here are my five top tips:

1. Walk slower than you want to – it will allow you to experience more and help deactivate the mind’s threat system. A slower pace will send a message to the mind that there is no threat or anything to fear.

2. Try to walk in green spaces with an abundance of nature as this provides the benefit of increasing dopamine and serotonin (feel good chemicals). It can also reduce the stress hormone cortisol.

3. As you walk, focus for a few minutes at a time on the sounds, colours, smells and sensations that nature provides. If you become distracted, that’s OK, just return to focus. This is meditating and it is improving how your mind functions.

4. Make a decision that you are not going to try to sort out any ‘life stuff’ while you walk.

5. Try not to judge your walk – an important aspect of meditation is self-compassion. Try to be kind to yourself. You‘ve shown up for a meditation walk. That’s good enough.

Owen O’Kane (@owenokaneten) is a psychotherapist, former NHS clinical lead for mental health and Sunday Times best-selling author. Ten Times Happier is out now.