“Look at that blue jay!” my father would say, slowing the family the car to a near standstill on the 401. “That’s the male. They’re the most beautiful, you know.”
While he may not have won any awards for great driving habits and was probably the cause for my mother’s high blood pressure, my father never missed anything interesting the world around him had to offer. On morning canoe paddles at our cottage, he’d point out a droplet of water shimmering in the sun on a lily pad or sit silently, watching a heron dive for a fish.
Apparently, Dad had the right idea. Stress management specialists would have loved his approach and you might too. It’s something you’ll now find in health-focused articles advocating a slower approach to life – a technique called mindfulness. The theory is that concentrating too much on ourselves and our own physical and emotional reactions causes unhealthy stress while looking outside ourselves offers a welcome distraction and release. In short, being mindful of the rest of the world makes it easier for us to relax.
Try it the next time you go for a walk. Rather than powering along, oblivious to everything but the time you’ve allotted for exercise, take the opportunity to really look around. You’ll be amazed by what you see and by how those sights take your mind off the stresses of day-to-day life.
This isn’t an exercise you can do inside, where you’ll see only the sweaty bodies of your gym partners in front of you. No…you need to get outside to make the most of mindful walking. And you can’t run. You need to move slowly enough to really see the leaves on the trees, feel the sun on your face and hear the breeze blowing against your ear. This workout is for your soul and you’re fortunate to be in the perfect venue for mindful walking.
Niagara is filled with spectacular trails and nature conservation areas where you can walk your feet right off if you choose. Plan to explore the Bruce Trail, mindful step by mindful step. Head for the Greater Niagara Circle Route, a multi-purpose trail system that spans 150 kms and connects in turn to the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail and ultimately, to the 17,000 km long Trans-Canada Trail. The Trans-Canada stretches as far east as St. John, Newfoundland, as far west as Victoria, British Columbia and as far north as Tuktoyaktuk in the North West Territories on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
The good thing is, you don’t need to walk as far as Tuktoyaktuk to gain the benefits of mindful walking – just a few kilometers will soothe your jangled nerves as long as you really concentrate on seeing, experiencing and enjoying the natural world. It’s all about looking beyond yourself. Try it tomorrow. When you head out for that morning walk, slow your steps and your mind while you open your eyes. Enjoy the sensation of being clearly in tune with every small detail. Look for that droplet of water on a leaf and, while you’re at it, see if you can spot a blue jay. Remember, the males are the most beautiful.