Benefits Of Breathwalking Go Beyond Mere Weight Loss
I would choose an outdoor walk over a treadmill in a gym for my cardio anytime. For reasons of it being the most natural activity in the most natural ambience. My Fitness Walks are like rituals, I give them my best every time and gain an abundant lot in return.
I try to put in new dimensions to my fitness walks now and then. This time around breathwalking or meditative walking caught my attention. I started it on an impulse. I had heard of shower meditation, which motivated me to incorporate mindfulness into my walks. Much to my surprise did I realise (later) that breathwalking is being put to therapeutic use in the treatment of certain health conditions.
Meditation has brought a lot of peace into my life in the past few months and mindfulness in my walks became it’s natural extension! Fitness trackers keep a count of steps, I chose to count my breaths ! I truly did not expect to sustain my newly found interest to last more than a few minutes, let alone complete my walk ! But it stood by me and here is my count : 1096 breaths in a 60 minute walk covering a distance of 6 km. I was thrilled alright, but why did this walk seem different? I felt energised, extremely satisfied and calmed despite the weather being stiflingly warm, and being drenched in sweat. I had my first taste of meditative breathwalking.
Counting steps is easier than counting breaths. The inhaling and exhaling takes longer than simply putting one foot in front of the other. It threw me off at the start, but by the time I reached the 10th count, I had kind of settled down to the rhythm of my breathing. From then on I thoroughly enjoyed focussing on my breaths and kept a steady count. Here is what I gained by meditative breathwalking, but before that the ‘how’ of it all.
How To Breathwalk
Breathwalking in health and wellness terminology is described as an exercise technique that synchronizes walking steps, specific breathing patterns and focussed attention.
- Begin your walk at your normal pace.
- As you settle into a rhythm, start counting your breaths. I suggest you make it a fun activity rather than setting off with a grim determination to get it right. Rest assured, in about 10-15 minutes you will get the hang of it. The idea is to cultivate openness, relaxation and an awareness of your mind and body.
- If you are a brisk walker, inhale for four steps, exhale for four. Just a guideline, feel free to set your rhythm. Slow walkers may have to test it out for themselves, whatever works for you.
- Feel your diaphragm move up and down.
- Breathe through your nose, especially if you are on an outdoor walk. It helps filter dust particles while helping you maintain proper balance of oxygen and carbon-di-oxide.
- Align your neck with your spine, tuck your tummy in and do your breathwalk.
- If at any point you feel stressed or tired, stop counting. Breathe and walk normally, relax and take a relook at the process. There must be something that you are not doing right. Start afresh and concentrate on getting closer to the right way.
- Take a break if you feel stressed, but get back to breathwalking soon.
- Avoid chatting up with other walkers, it will hamper your rhythm. A tip : Keep socializing for later. Do not show any signs of slowing down your speed if a friend is walking towards you. That way they will get a hint and will not disturb you.
- Start your walk with a warm up and keep a cooling down regimen and stretch regimen after you finish.
The Benefits of Meditative Breathwalking :
1) Brings Better Focus To Your Walking. Meditative breathwalking shuts out all the crap and lets you focus on yourself and your fitness activity. You begin to observe your body, your gait, your form and a natural thought is given to correct them all if you are out of sync
2) Calms You Down. We live in a stressful world and we are wont to welcome calmness in any form. Just like in a meditative state, your breathing gets regularised, and with that a sense of calm envelopes you even while your body continues to be in momentum. You must experience meditative breathwalking.
3) Increases Your Speed. Contrary to what most people would think, you speed up with meditative breathwalking. A calming effect is a slowing down you think? In most cases yes, but if you are conscious that you are doing a fitness walk, it works the other way. With every breath that has now become deeper, you inhale more oxygen and you are in no hurry to exhale. It’s just a natural and involuntary process. You hold the breath in for a few seconds and exhale slowly. By now the rhythm would have been set and with more oxygen, you will feel more energised and move effortlessly. There is a certain smoothness to your walk, unless a ditch on the road, or a passing car, or a dog come in your way.
4) Feel More Positive. Any guess why? Your mind is so engaged with counting the breaths that it shuts out everything else. All those bothersome thoughts and memories about your workplace, your home, your relationship or your finance recede to the background. A random thought may cross your mind now and then, but wont stay long and neither set forth a whirlwind of related emotions. Your mind has to get back to counting your breaths. You have just managed to push negativity out of your radar and your mind is kind of at peace. This is the biggest plus of meditative breathwalking and precisely why you feel top of the world at the end of your walk.
5) The Opportunity To Improve Your Form. Yes, with your focus on the ‘now and here’, you tend to start watching yourself. Right time to correct your gait/walking form (doesn’t matter that you are in front of a mirror). Take my word, you will make an effort. Tuck your tummy in, pull back your shoulders if you round them as a matter of habit, and keep your neck in line with your spine. Your body is now aligned. Notice how confident, tall and energetic you feel. A few days into this practice, you may be able to make it a habit for life! Meditative breathwalking has just changed one aspect of your lifestyle!
6) Burn More Calories. Walking is instinctive to our species and is as natural as breathing. Add a technique to it, it sets a chain reaction in your body and the benefits just multiply. For one, your fitness walk has just become more efficient and effective. Two, with proper form comes the burning of more calories. You certainly have read somewhere that just keeping the right posture burns calories. An excerpt from my earlier article, Are You Looking For Weight Training Basics To Get a Sculpted Body? “Did you know just sitting and standing in correct posture can burn a few calories? When you maintain proper posture, your muscles are being worked to maintain the alignment of the body, thereby adding to your calorie burn”.
7) Better Sleep. You have walked faster and fitter. You have burned more calories. You are relaxed despite the brisk walk. You feel more positive. You have improved your form and you have counted breaths till the last step of your fitness walk. There is a sense of achievement within you. It’s now time to hydrate, so grab some water, head home and eat up a healthy meal. Assuming this is your evening walk, your body feels well conditioned and you head for a restful deep sleep. If you are a morning walker, your entire day ahead of you pans out more energetic. So both ways, meditative breathwalking is a boon.
Two Ways Of Meditative Breathwalking
When I began meditative breathwalking, I ventured into counting the total number of breaths through my entire walk and here are the stats : 1096 breaths in a 60 minute walk of 6 km. I felt great at the end of it alright, but I had to handle the task of remembering the 100s as I crossed each one of them. It taxed my memory cells, but then why not use it to my advantage I mused and kept at it. It helped keep all the random, uninvited guests of my mind, the thoughts at bay! I had to focus harder than I had to in the other method, but again it was a challenge I took up and it worked!
The other method is to count your steps for every breath cycle. Inhale for four steps and exhale for four steps. This method helps you keep a steady speed, however you may have to reorient and synchronise if you happen to increase or decrease your speed. Those who are well versed with breath control and Yoga may do well with this, while beginners may find it stressful to follow it to the T. Exhaling is often longer than inhaling, hence some may find respite in 2 or 3 counts of inhaling and 4 counts of exhaling.
Breathwalking is simple and fun. Once you get it right, it can pave the path to physical and mental fitness. A lot of competitive and non-competitive sports and fitness trainers insist on and inculcate breath control to improve athletic performance. Paying attention to the flow of breath while letting go of other thoughts that command your consciousness can be very uplifting. Anyone can do it anywhere, even if you are taking a walk in your compound. It is of tremendous help to the elderly when they get worked up. Teach them breathwalking, it will do them a world of good.
A 2007 study published by the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that breathwalking had a positive effect in patients suffering from chronic hepatitis C, obesity and insulin resistance.
Meditative breathwalking is a union of three rhythms – stepping, breathing and mental counting. Enough to calm down a chattering mind and appreciate the present moments. Fitness and wellness are all about sharing, your feedback and comments could give me new perspectives. Till then, wishing you wellness!
Sources : World Journal Of Gastroenterology , Kundalini Research Institute