Seven Reasons Why Breathwalking Can be Uplifting

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.

meditative breathwalking, my thought lane

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

Treat High Heel Hangovers With These Tips And Stretches

Which hangover would you treat first, alcohol-induced one or the high-heel hangover? Both are equally painful!!!! We will let alcohol be for the moment though.

Adding style to the feet

Adding style to the feet

Been there, done that! That glorious time we all had the previous night, strutting around in those gorgeous high-heeled shoes was unbeatable!!! But, the ‘morning after’….. felt like our legs had been boxed and beaten! And just like ‘no-more-alcohol-for-me’ , ‘no-more-high-heels’  thoughts crept into our fogged minds, only to be washed out of memory by the end of the day.

But there is good news. Just like you don’t have to give up alcohol completely (sic), you don’t have to abandon your towering high heels either. Australian podiatrist Philip Vasyli says that rationing high-heel wearing moments can help preserve the health of your feet. In his words, “The human body was not intended to walk in high heels, so the most logical thing is to either not wear them or, better, to save them for special occasions or the weekend”.

One hour, six minutes and 48 seconds to be exact, is how long it takes for feet in high-heeled shoes to start aching, according to a recent survey by a College of Podiatry. Some very delicate darlings start wincing after just 10 minutes of wearing high heels. Some others who are oblivious to the pain while they dance and hop,  spend the whole of next morning nursing their aching feet. But we still don’t give up, do we ? Didn’t someone famous say, “if there is a problem, there has to be a solution too” ?

The answer to this problem (is it really a problem for women?) lies in being careful about the shoes you wear, how you walk (yes, yes, FORM again!!!), strengthening your leg muscles to handle high-heel wearing more efficiently and lastly treating those poor sore muscles.

You can get away with wearing tight inner wear(not really!!), tight jeans and tight blouses, but you can’t cheat your feet into tight or ill-fitting footwear. Yes, yes, those red pumps are to die for!! And the price is even better!!! But they are just a centimeter small and you still want to buy them! That one centimeter will convert itself into several inches smaller after a few minutes of wearing the footwear. Forget them, you will find better ones soon.

These are the number of muscles that we put to work when we wear high heels. Shouldn’t we keep them in order ? They have to last us a lifetime.

Anatomy of the lower leg

Anatomy of the lower leg

How your shoes fit you depends on what time of the day you buy them.

Peoples’ feet are normally smaller in the wee hours of the day and progressively get larger by the end of the day. Fluid flowing downwards into the feet through out the day will obviously swell the feet a little and hence, that is the best time to buy new footwear, if you want to avoid shoes that pinch and bruise.

How you walk with your heels is important:

Walking form is always the same, at home, at work, at parties or fitness walks. Heel first, roll then to the ball of the feet and finish with the toes. Of course, with high heels, the roll of the feet cannot be so precise, but it helps to start the tap with the heel first rather than placing the feet flat on the ground.

Check out this video from Wendy’s Lookbook

Why do we wear high heels at all?

We got to be kidding if we said “just to look taller!” We have heard time and again that long legs are sexy and why not ? They add a certain style and attitude to our personality. While we appear to have never-ending legs with wearing heels, the story happening in the inside of our legs is that the shin muscles are forced to lengthen while the calf muscles get shortened. The Achilles tendon (attaching calf to the ankle), with repeated wearing of high heels, gets shortened and inflamed. Beginning of problems!

But this blog is not about abandoning high heels ; it is about managing high heels and its accompanying woes. So here are a few things you could do to alleviate the pains.

Strengthen / condition your leg muscles before wearing high heels:

  • Stretch your calf muscles before and after wearing high heels.
  • Stand with your feet together, hands stretched out to either sides. Bend forward from your waist and as you do so, lift your leg back straight, keeping it parallel to the floor (it’s called doing a T). Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
  • Stand with feet together. Extend one leg behind you as far as you can get it, both feet firmly on the ground. Straighten the back leg, hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Wall-Calf-StretchSit in the child’s pose, relaxed, with your feet tucked underneath or on the balls of your feet. Lean forward and stretch out your arms, with head in line with the spine.
  • Do a few lunges to stretch out the hips. They can get cramped when you wear heels.

Repeat these stretches soon after you get back from your event or after a little while. If it’s a night out, the next morning probably.

How many of you have worn high heels through a long evening, danced in them and ripped off your shoes in the car? And walked out from the car to your door bare feet? I have and I know balls of the feet can be killing. Here is what we could do to better manage the pain.

  • Ice Remedy : An exhausted body after a long day needs a hot bath, but feet that have become sore with high heels need a cold pack to bring down the swelling caused by long hours of wearing high heels. Place your feet in a cold tub for 15 minutes and then apply a good foot moisturizer before you crash.

Now let’s be practical. We know high heels are bad for us; that they put a lot of strain on our ankles, calves, knees and lower back. But not much in the world is going to stop us, high-heels lovers from wearing them. So, let’s get our leg muscles used to high heels.

  • Lets alternate between mid to low heels on most of the days and after that big fashionable day of those sky-scraper heels, lets take a heel holiday.
  • Wear flats, take a pedicure and stretch out those muscles.
  • Shall we stick to 1.5 or 2 inch and a quarter high heels, with wedge or cat heels for those practice days? Because that is what most podiatrists and orthopaedicians recommend for better health of our feet. Three inches is allowed occasionally, but any higher than that, we stand to risk. Higher the heel, more stylized the walk, I agree, but at the cost of our gait and the backs of our legs.
  • Thin silicone or foam pads placed inside the shoes for the balls of the feet absorb the impact and can give some relief.

Another set of exercises to calm your screaming leg muscles:

Down Dog Calf Stretch. Image source : POPSUGAR Studios

Down Dog Calf Stretch.Image source : POPSUGAR Studios

  • The downward-facing dog position is ideal for soothing the high heel hangover, since it gets the blood flowing back to normal in the legs. Stand with your feet slightly apart, bend forward till you are able to place your hands firmly on the ground. Raise your bottom towards the ceiling and hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Bend your right knee, shifting weight to the left leg. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then switch sides. Repeat a few times.
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart. Bend forward slowly and touch your toes. Straighten out your knees and keep the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Repeat a few times.
  • Sit down on the floor with legs stretched in front of you. Lift one leg off the ground, flex the toes and stretch them alternatively.
  • Circle with your feet starting from the ankles (not the whole leg) clock-wise and anti clock-wise, 10 times each. This will help your ankle muscles.
  • Let only your heels hang from the edge of a step of a staircase, while you support yourself holding the wall or the balustrade. Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds, repeat a few times.
  • Now, place your feet firmly on the step of the staircase. Extend one leg in front of you on the higher step to reach your hip height. Extend your arms in front of the body, without rounding your lower back. This soothes the leg and back muscles.

Useful Tips :

Mix it up and show off your shoe collection. One day heels, next day flats, wedges on the following day, boots next and so on. This way, your feet learn to adapt to changes and will be better geared to handle high heel woes.

According to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, we should limit high heels to two and a quarter inches and wear them for no more than two to three hours each day. And this holds good for people all over. The Achilles tendon is under continuous stress if high heels are worn for prolonged periods and can cause a world of leg and back issues over time.

Don’t grow long toe-nails if you are a high heel addict wearing closed shoes.

Soak your feet in warm water with Epsom salts. Warm water opens up skin pores letting the minerals of Epsom salt dilate the body blood vessels, offering respite to aching feet.

Higher the heel, pointier the stilettoes, stronger the high heel hangover!

Click here for proper Walking Form.

I would love to get your feedback. I look forward to more tips from you all, it will help.