Another Way to Walk – Part 1

If it’s too hot outside to get your heart rate up, what do you do? Try something new to adjust to the conditions and boost your resilience.

The heat this week threw me for a loop. I like hot days in the summer. When the heat lasts for a day or two, it is beloved summer. The heat is breezy light clothes and a wet glass of iced drink puddling on my table, giving cool relief as it goes down. I even like squinting my eyes against the bright sun and feeling lugubriously hot without moving a muscle…in small doses, that is. LAST WEEK WAS TOO MUCH! (Yes, I’m shouting.) If you’re like me, your daily walk or jog might be your most reliable health habit. Plus, you just invested in a bodywork session and walking is the best way to encourage any shifts that occurred to settle into your system and stick. First, know it’s okay to take a break. Venturing into unsafe conditions for the sake of a rigid habit does not support your health. Stay inside when that’s better for you in hot weather or unsafe air conditions. If it’s comfortable enough to be outside in the shade but still too warm for moving fast over hot pavement, try a completely different kind of walk. Try slowing down. Take the pressure off and sigh into a shorter distance. Most importantly, find a natural area with running water and dense tree cover (shade!!). Vigorous cardiovascular exercise isn’t the only reason or way to walk.

If staying indoors is how you support your body in the heat or when the air quality is bad, "Another Way to Walk--Part 2" will cover indoor walking exercises to move your feet and your breath without leaving your living room.

On a hot walk this week, the pavement was radiating heat like crazy so I took the first chance to cut off onto the dirt trail running through the Kingfisher Natural Area (Thornton Creek). It was instantly cooler…so much cooler. I could breathe again, and breathe I did. My attention shifted from pushing through the challenging conditions to enjoying where I was in the moment. That felt good. If you don’t just happen upon a natural area, consider going out of your way to make it happen.

  • Spend a few minutes on your computer identifying a park or natural area near you that has a stream or creek and ample shade. These spots are significantly and noticeably cooler than the surrounding streets. Scroll down for some suggestions.
  • No need to talk yourself out of getting into an air-conditioned car to get to your chosen location. Why not enjoy a few minutes of AC on your way to and from your walk?!
  • Need ideas for how to enjoy and get benefit from a slow, short walk. Look up articles on Forest Bathing. Time with nature and soaking up the phytoncide molecules emitting from the trees is good for the body, heart and mind.

Here’s a great blog post from REI to get you started.  (Don’t miss the link to Mary Oliver’s poem, When I am among the trees. Such a good one.)

Where to go:

Here in North Seattle, my favorites are Piper’s Creek at Carkeek Park and Ravenna Creek in the ravine at Cowen and Ravenna Parks. If I’m ever ambitions enough to leave the neighborhood, I might try Longfellow Creek Greenspace in West Seattle. Salmon Creek Ravine in Burien.

What to do:

Slow, short walks in these cool pockets of forest are perfect for a warm day. If walking slow sounds boring, try following the guidelines for forest bathing.

  • Give yourself a chance to transition from the street to nature. Silence your phone, stow it away and leave it away. Stand in one place, look around. List a few specific things you notice by saying them out loud or in your head.
  • Find a place where you feel comfortable standing, sitting on a bench or leaning on a tree and take a moment to notice your body. Body awareness is calming and will help you tune in to your senses. Notice the places where your body is making contact with the ground, seat, tree.
  • This next part can be done with eyes open or closed. If it feels safe where you are, it can be nice to close your eyes and give your other senses a chance to kick in. Listen to the sounds around you. Breath through your nostrils to smell where you are. Then, try breathing with your mouth open to see if the place you are has a taste. Finally, open your eyes and take in the color, light and movement in your visual surroundings.
  • If you haven’t already done so, start a slow, silent walk. Stop often so you can tune in to where you are. Sit as often and for as long as you wish.
    • Find things you can hear but not see.
    • Find things you can see but not hear.
    • Name the smells you notice.  
    • Name one thing that is bringing you calm.
    • Name the parts of this natural environment you appreciate. Thank the forest.
  • There is no wrong way to enjoy the outdoors in this way! Be open, seeing the place anew, and let your senses guide your wandering. The planning part of your brain can take a break. Don’t let your head worry about getting efficiently from Point A to Point B. Let your senses take the lead.

You might be surprised to find that, like your brisk walks on mild weather days, this slowed-down, tuned-in version leaves you feeling alert and invigorated. It will do as much to help you integrate yesterday’s bodywork session as that longer, faster walk. Enjoy the experiment of finding a way of moving that works for you on days when getting your heart rate up outdoors isn’t possible for whatever reason. This is resilience. Your system will thank you for being creative and flexible enough to try something new.

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