Walking your dog is so great in so many ways: It’s excellent exercise, you spend quality time with your pooch doing what they love best, you get to breathe in fresh air, and dog-walking has even been shown to reduce stress and build your sense of community. But here’s an easy way to amp up your daily ritual and make it even more powerful: walk your dog mindfully.
When we think of mindfulness, we think of stillness, meditation, awareness and savoring this very moment with a full heart. Now incorporate these mindful intentions next time you walk your dog—and get ready to watch the many benefits unfold!
1. Slow down. If you walk the same loop around your neighborhood every day and you’re on autopilot, take a different path and consciously slow down. Instead of seeing the walk as a doggie bathroom break, awaken your senses and reconnect with nature around you. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Notice the new things around you. Breathe. Pay attention to how the flowers and trees smell, or maybe the crisp autumn air from a distant log burning in a fireplace somewhere. Listen to bird calls or the sound of the wind. Feel the sun on your skin. Follow your dog’s lead as he walks with balance and harmony on the earth. Getting out of your head and into the natural world in this way is very healing for both mind and body. (For more on the powerful healing properties of spending time in nature, check out my article on the Japanese art of “forest bathing.”)
2. Connect with the now. On this mindful walk with your dog, do not worry about what happened yesterday or in the past, or stress over what’s to come. Yes, this is difficult to do—but focus on setting your intention to focus only on this moment before you. This exercise in mindfulness allows you to free your mind and find a quiet place where true healing, inspiration and problem-solving can begin to grow.
It may help you to remember the five Reiki precepts.
For today only …
Do not anger.
Do not worry.
Practice diligently in your work.
Be compassionate to yourself and others.
3. Make mindful dog-walking your new habit. In our chaotic, busy lives, the reality is that, for most of us, mindful dog-walking will be difficult to do each and every time. But if you aim for 30 minutes three times a week, you’ll be incorporating more mindfulness into your life than ever before. And pretty soon something amazing will begin to happen: You’ll find it easier than ever to access that space of inner peace that our animals just naturally reside in—especially when times get tough.
Living with intention. Living joyfully. I try to connect with these ideals every day, though some days I’m more successful than others. The thing is, when I take the time to really nourish my inner self, I feel stronger, more balanced and, well, happier. So no matter how busy my schedule gets, I always try to make space for simple, soul-nourishing activities such as these:
1. Watch the sun rise. When was the last time you took the time to do this? (And I’m not talking about seeing the sun rise over the freeway while driving to the airport to catch an early-morning flight.) I mean, awakening in starlight, then setting your intention to wait, watch and really savor the beauty that is a new day beginning. This is not just a wonderful time to clear your mind and think, but also a special way to start your day.
2. Plant a vegetable (preferably one you love to eat). You don’t have to be a green thumb to try this one out, and you don’t have to plant an entire time-consuming or complicated garden. Just pick one veggie and give it a whirl. There is something almost meditative about working with the earth, digging and planting. The payoff—eating something fresh you grew yourself—nourishes both your body and soul.
3. Groom your animal. Brushing your dog, cat or horse feels good for them, but it’s good for us, too: It’s the kind of easy, repetitive work that lets our mind wander to a peaceful place. Strengthening your bond with your animal is another bonus. (They’ll shed less, too!)
4. Make your bed. When your bed is made first thing in the morning, your room looks better and more welcoming all day. Also, it starts your day off right by accomplishing this one small task. And at night, isn’t your state of mind in a more positive place when you can wind down in a tidy room? Try it tomorrow; it takes just two minutes.
5. Do a random act of kindness. There’s real power behind a random act of kindness. Even a small gesture of kindness can generate tiny ripple effects and help make this world a better place. Here’s an inspiring TEDx Talk on the subject. See what this woman learned when she dedicated herself to 38 acts of kindness for her 38th birthday:
6. Visit your local art museum. Most of us like to visit an art museum when we travel to a new city. It’s refreshing and almost meditative to wander and contemplate art—but most of us forget we can do this in our own city, as well. (I know, I know … it’s not The Louvre, but still.) We lead such busy lives we often neglect nurturing ourselves. But don’t think of visiting an art museum as a mere indulgence; studies have linked “artistic consumption” to improved health.
7. Channel your inner kid with a coloring book. Tapping into our creativity is very nourishing for the soul, but sometimes being creative can be exhausting. Enter the rise in popularity of coloring books for adults, which can now be found topping the best-seller lists. Like many of the activities listed here, coloring can be very meditative and relaxing (and fun!), and studies show art therapy such as coloring can also reduce stress. I like this one and this one.
8. Find your personal Zen. Maybe you love to exercise—for me it’s Pilates. Or maybe you love painting, writing, creating music, brewing an amazing cup of coffee or baking a batch of muffins. Find a place in your day to do whatever strikes you and that you love.
These are just a few ideas that are good for the soul—do you have any to add to the list?
Forbes recently did an article on the seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude—among them, feeling healthier, a boost in self-esteem and sleeping better. I know for myself, I’ve tried to live more mindfully and cultivate more gratitude in my life ever since fighting breast cancer, twice. But because living mindfully and embracing gratitude into our everyday lives doesn’t always happen seamlessly, here are six tips that really work for me:
1. Set your intention—choose gratitude. Because we have good days and not-so-good days, gratitude must be a choice. Make a point daily to acknowledge all that you are grateful for. Focus on the things you do have and that are going right. There is always something, even if it’s small. When the hard times come (and they will), this important life skill can help you cope.
2. Watch this TED Talk on nature’s boundless beauty and the importance of being grateful every day. This wonderful lecture, featuring cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg’s beautiful images and wise words, is absolutely inspiring and riveting. I especially love this part, where the narrator says: “You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day; it’s the one day that is given to you, today. It’s given to you; it’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”
3. Remember and hold close your favorite heartful quotes on gratitude. Here are a few of mine:
“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” –Karl Barth
“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” –Aesop
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” –Thich Nhat Hanh
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” –Epicurus
“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” –Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden
4. Help animals. Volunteering at a rescue will always help to inspire gratitude. First, it redirects your focus from “me” toward a sentient being in need of love and care. Second, spending time with gentle creatures naturally just opens your heart, which will help you to see things in a more positive light. And third, helping an animal that is sick, neglected or homeless can remind you to feel grateful for the basics we often take for granted: food, shelter, our health.
5. Start a gratitude journal. Or, if you already have one, commit to writing in it regularly. Your gratitude journal then becomes a lifeline you can cling to again and again when you need to remember all the abundances in your life you may otherwise have forgotten.
6. Practice patience. Yes, it’s annoying that you’re running late and the woman in front of you in line at the market has 20 coupons and is writing a check (if only she could find her checkbook). Or perhaps it’s a person driving too slow in front of you. Identify your hot buttons and next time, instead of reacting impatiently (or steaming on the inside), be mindful. Breathe, step back and use those precious extra moments to see the big picture. Count your blessings and revel in the beautiful gift that is right now.