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5 Reasons That Walking Is the Best Meditation

5 Reasons That Walking Is the Best Meditation

As a health and well-being writer, I am constantly searching for ways that people incorporate meditation into their lives in a practical way. By now we’ve all heard of the benefits of meditation — it can lower stress and anxiety, improve immune function, and decrease pain. Now recently, scientists are even telling us it can increase grey matter in the brain, leading to better memory function, emotional stability, and mindful behavior. In short meditation is a bit of a wonder practice — if you can make it work for you.

The problem is, not all of us can. For some of us (me included) sitting in silence focusing on your breathing just isn’t practical. Not only can it be difficult to find that inner silence you’re looking for; at times, it can be hard to find literal silence if you live in a shared house, or have children, or a partner, or a dog, or a parrot.

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So recently I went for a walk, and not just your usual walk. Actually it was a hike: six days of walking with nothing to do but just think. Well, that’s the opposite of meditation right? The principle of meditation is to silence your thoughts. The interesting thing was that my brain ran out of things to think about pretty quickly, (particularly when the going got steep and all I could concentrate on were the three steps in front of me). After a few hours of walking, it suddenly hit me like a boulder — I was meditating, and there was no crossed legs or chanting involved.

This is why walking works for me, and can for you too.

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1. It clears your mind.

Unlike guided meditation, which asks you to clear your head of all thoughts (often producing the opposite effect), walking naturally allows your mind to go quiet. While you might start your walk thinking of everything that you need to do today, or this week, after a while, the rhythm of your footfall and movement acts as a focus, allowing you to just focus on the road ahead of you. Something that helps me with this is instrumental music, ( lyrics are distracting to your brain). The combination of walking while listening to melodic music provides a sense of calm that is difficult to find elsewhere.

2. You can do it (almost) anywhere.

While regular meditation requires you to find a quiet space where you can be alone, a walk can be done anywhere (with the exception of high rise buildings and space stations). You don’t have to trek up mountains, or across barren landscape to feel the effect of walking meditation, I have had equally peaceful walks through busy cities. The important factor is to be alone with yourself, even if you’re not physically alone.

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Listen to music, but put your phone on airplane mode — don’t check your texts, emails, or social media. Allow your mind to focus only on your walk, not the destination or distractions along the way, but on the act of walking, the rhythm of your footfall, knowing that you are travelling in a direction, but not getting caught up on where that is or when you will arrive.

3. It gets your body moving.

One of my biggest frustrations when it comes to traditional meditation is that my body is restless. It wants to move, or I can feel an ache in my arm, or suddenly have an uncontrollable urge to scratch my elbow. With walking, that is all taken care of already; your body is distracted — it’s moving in a constant rhythm leaving nothing to focus on but your mind. What’s more, because endorphins —those lovely exercise hormones— are being released, it allows your mind to contemplate things in a much more positive way.

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4. It connects you with nature.

 Studies have shown that connecting to nature on a regular basis, whether that is through walking, gardening, or animal care, can improve your mood and decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. Walking is the perfect opportunity to do this. Even if you live in a city, get to a park. Even if the weather is awful, enjoy the feeling of the wind and rain on your skin. Being in nature reminds us of who we are, of our connection to the world, and can allow us to see some of our more petty problems for what they really are.

5. It gives you the distance you’ve been searching for.

Whether you’re taking a stroll in a local park, or setting off on your own personal mountain odyssey, walking gives you both physical and mental distance from whatever issues may be bothering you. Once you’ve given your mind a chance to clear, and not think for a while, it allows you to approach the issue from a fresh perspective. You can be alone with yourself, and free to think over what’s going on without distraction, or input from an outside source. You often find that you return home with a completely different head on to the one you left with — calmer, clearer, and ready to start again.

Featured photo credit: to move seasonally by aya padrón via flickr.com

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Published on October 11, 2018

7 Killer Upper Back Stretches to Reduce Pain and Boost Endurance

7 Killer Upper Back Stretches to Reduce Pain and Boost Endurance

Building and maintaining a strong upper back depends not only on strength-training, but stretching and nutrition as well. Stretching the upper back muscles, along with a healthy diet can help alleviate pain while improving endurance.

Did you know that stretching your upper back builds endurance for sports, your job – which may require heavy lifting – and simple, everyday activities? Many people who exercise don’t recognize the importance of having a strong upper back, and often neglect this part of the body, focusing more on the lower back where injuries are more prone to occur.

Upper back endurance is necessary for runners, hikers, golfers, tennis players, bowlers, cyclists; the list goes on and on. If saving time is important to you, you want to reduce chronic back pain, boost your energy levels, or you simply need ways to get through a day at the office while confined to a computer, you’ll begin to understand why the following upper back stretches and exercises are necessary.

Here are seven stretches, combined with exercises, to help you maintain a strong upper back:

1. Lat Pull-Downs

By contracting and lengthening your latissimus dorsi muscles, trapezius, deltoids, rhomboids, teres major, along with the other muscles groups in and around your upper back, you are building muscle endurance and increasing mobility.

Seated at a lat pull-down machine, select a weight stack that is comfortable. Remember, you’re not preparing for a bodybuilding competition, you just want to exercise the back, so heavy weight is unnecessary.

Grab the wide bar above your head, palms down, and using a wide grip, pull the bar down to your chest and contract your upper back muscles.

Keep your head up, looking at the bar. This also helps keep your spine straight and provides a clearance so that the bar doesn’t hit your face. Slowly return the bar to the top and repeat for 15 reps. Do three to four sets.

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Here’s the correct technique by Denice Moberg:

2. Indoor Rowing

If upright exercises like walking on the treadmill or running outdoors bore you, you can strengthen your core using a rowing machine. Not only will you chisel your back, but the elongation of the upper back during the stroke motion creates a good stretch.

First, select a tension that is challenging but not a struggle. Make sure that your feet are securely placed in the machine’s foot straps, nice and tight to prevent the feet from moving while rowing.

Next, slide yourself in the rowing saddle forward toward the row bar and pull the bar toward the mid-section of your trunk area, which is the finish. Pulling the bar, bring your elbows beyond your back while contracting your upper muscles and rear shoulders.

Your back should be straight with a slight angle of around 100 degrees. Do not hunch.

During the catch, your legs should be at a 90 degree angle while locking out your arms completely. As a stretching exercise, repeat this motion for five minutes.

Here’s how you can do it:

3. Side Plank Rotation

If you’re short on time, floor exercises such as planks strengthen your core and can be done at home or during your lunch break at work. They can be done in 30 to 60 second increments.

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There are a few plank variations:

The low-position forearm plank in which your body weight is supported by your elbows; the straight-arm plank, which is a high-position plank; side plank in which your body is turned to one side and supported by one straightened arm; the stability-ball plank which is more challenging for your trunk; and the plank that gives you a good stretch is the side plank rotation.

To begin the side plank rotation, begin in the high plank position. Slowly turn your body to one side while stacking one foot on top of the other. Extend the opposite arm toward the ceiling and as you lower your arm, reaching underneath your body and rotating your trunk.

Done properly, you will feel the stretch along your rhomboids and shoulders. Repeat the rotation – reaching and tucking – 10 times. Switch sides.

Here’s a Side Plank Rotation demonstrated by Train Aggressive:

4. Yoga Stretches

A good way to incorporate breathing with stretching and gain flexibility in your core is Kundalini yoga – an intense yoga practice – gets your blood flowing and works wonders for the spine and posture.

The “Cat-Cow” pose is a great upper back warm-up, and when combined with the “Breath Of Fire”[1] or “fast breathing,” energy is sent through the entire body which stimulates the flow of cell activity and increases lung capacity.

On all fours, arms straight and directly below your shoulders, and knees directly below your hips, hunch your back, inhaling as you tuck your head into your chest, then exhale while arching your back and raise your head toward to sky.

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The rapid inhaling and exhaling in this exercise is known as the “Breath Of Fire,” as mentioned above. Increase the pace of both the “Cat-Cow” and “Breath Of Fire” and repeat this movement for up to five minutes.

This is how to do a Cat-Cow pose for energy:

5. Side Bends

This is a simple stretch to elongate the space between your ribs and increase range of motion, which helps achieve flexibility in the abdominals, spine, and lateral core.

Seated or standing with your back straight, raise your arms above your head and firmly hold your wrist. Gently pull your trunk to one side and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. When finished, repeat on opposite side.

Note: If standing, keep your feet shoulder width apart, if seated keep your feet flat on the floor.

Let’s take a look at how to do a standing side bend:

6. Pole Stretch

By creating opposing force and pulling on a stationary object, you are stretching your lats. The upper sides of your back. Here, you are performing a static stretch which is a stretch held beyond its normal range.

Find a pole, mounted gym apparatus, or other floor-affixed object and, while standing, pull on the object with slightly bent knees and back flat at a 45-degree angle.

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Continue to pull while extending your arms, feeling the stretch in your lats and rhomboid muscles. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat if needed.

7. Shoulder Blade Stretch

The shoulder blades are connected to the rhomboid muscles in the upper back. Sudden, quick movements like pulling a heavy object or even tossing a near-weightless object overhead, like a tennis ball during a serve, can strain the unstretched muscles between your shoulder blades, causing spasms.

Here’s how to avoid muscle strain:

Standing tall with feet shoulder width apart, gently pull your elbow across your chest, just beneath your chin, and hold for 15 seconds. If you do not feel immediate relief, try lowering or raising the elbow and perform the stretch again. Different angles can make a big difference.

There you have it – Seven upper back stretches and exercises to reduce pain and improve endurance. But while upper back stretches are important, a diet rich in antioxidants is equally key.

Bonus Tip: Getting a Diet Rich in Antioxidants

Antioxidants, also known as “Super Foods,” prevent the build up of free radicals in your body and control oxidative stress. These free radicals are toxins that get in the way of endurance, flexibility, and cause inflammation, among other fitness obstacles.

How do you incorporate antioxidants into your diet? Here are some common foods and beverages rich in antioxidants:

A good combination of quick and easy targeted cardiovascular exercises, static stretches, range-of-motion stretches, and yoga poses can increase upper back endurance and boost your energy levels, making your activities – both sedentary and active – manageable and fun.

Once you begin to incorporate these methods of relief into your routine, you will begin to walk taller, run farther, and hike longer!

Featured photo credit: Geert Pieters via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Yogapedia: Breath of Fire

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