Try This On Your Next Walk and Transform Your Health
Over the past few months I’ve been making a point to walk as often as I can, as part of my recovery from several surgeries earlier this year.
During my walks, I often let my mind wander.
Occasionally a good idea for a song will come to me, or a topic for a South Health article (like this one).
Other times, I deliberately try to clear my mind and not think about anything at all.
Instead, I like to focus on my breath—specifically, matching the rhythm of my breathing to the speed at which I’m walking. It’s like a “walking meditation” of sorts.
My helpful “walking meditation” routine
Just like other forms of meditation, if my mind happens to wander during my walk, it’s completely fine. I just acknowledge the thought, and attempt to bring my attention back to my breathing and my steps.
Sometimes my walks only last for about 20 minutes, and other times I’ll go out for a few hours. But regardless of the duration, I always leave the woods feeling calm, present, and refreshed.
The walking rhythm I’ve found to be especially effective is taking two steps per second. And in my specific walking meditation practice, I aim to breathe in for eight steps, and then exhale for eight steps.
Not only does this slow rhythmic breathing help unravel the tightness in my neck and back, but it also washes away my anxiety and makes my body feel lighter and more agile.
But it turns out, that’s just the beginning. I recently came across some research showing that breathing at a slower rate actually unlocks a whole trove of health benefits I never knew about…
Slowed breath control offers a long list of benefits
In a large 2017 study published in the journal Breathe, researchers reviewed 119 studies on the effects of “slow breathing.”
They concluded that slow breathing benefits people in four major areas of health:
- Improves breathing efficiency
- Increases blood oxygenation
- Increases heart rate variability
- Decreases average blood pressure
Cardiorespiratory (a measure of your endurance):
- Buffers blood pressure ﬂuctuations
- Synchronizes blood ﬂow and heart rhythm
Autonomic nervous system (the nervous systems that regulates non-voluntary bodily functions like breathing, digestion, sweating, and your heartbeat):
- Increases vagal activity (also known as your vagal tone)
- Shifts toward the parasympathetic nervous system dominating (more relaxation and less stress response)
- Increases resilience to agitation
The researchers determined that in order to achieve these benefits, the respiration rate “sweet spot” is between 6 to 10 complete breaths per minute.
How you can enjoy the benefits of controlled breathing
Want to get started with your own slow-breathing, walking meditation practice? It’s pretty simple. Just remember to go at a pace that’s comfortable for you, and take breaks if you need them.
- Find a safe place—either indoors or out—where you can fit in a few laps of walking.
- “Warm up” by walking at your regular pace for a few minutes.
- When you’re ready, start taking two steps per second. (I’ve found that sometimes it’s helpful to count these steps in your head until you get into a rhythm.)
- Next, deeply inhale at a rate much slower than usual. While you do this, aim to take eight steps. (Again, it’s helpful to count this out in your head as you first get started.)
Note: You may also find that taking only six steps on each part of the breath works better for you, and that’s okay too!
- Then, slowly exhale as you walk another eight steps.
Again, this exhalation will be much slower than usual.
- Attempt to focus on this breathing/walking pattern for 10 minutes at first, and then slowly increase your time. Ideally, you want to be walking for at least 20 to 30 minutes at least three to five times a week.
The key here is to make a deliberate shift to slow your breathing. Feel free to experiment with the rhythm and timing until you find the breathing rate that feels the best for you!
The main takeaway for today is that, sometimes, making a simple and conscious adjustment to things you’re already doing can result in some truly remarkable improvements when it comes to your health.
Interested in learning more about the small everyday techniques that can transform your health? I encourage you to check out The Donovan Sound Solution, which walks you through even more rhythm- and breath-based exercises to help you lead a longer, more vibrant life. Simply click here to learn more or to get started today!
Jim Donovan, M.Ed.
Russo, M. (2017). The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe. 13(4): pp. 298 – 309. Retrieved from: researchgate.net/publication/321424065_The_physiological_effects_of_slow_breathing_in_the_healthy_human