With winter in the rearview mirror, it’s a breath of fresh air to get active outdoors—and walk.
The first Wednesday in April even marks the American Heart Association’s National Walking Day, kicking off a month of initiatives to encourage people to put one foot in front of the other for at least 30 minutes a day.
Walking has many benefits: it improves strength and mobility, and from an Ayurvedic perspective, it stimulates the body’s agni which is our digestive fire and metabolism. Further, when we take our steps to the trails, we can feel how hiking is a meditative and spiritual experience, a balm for the psyche. A study published by Gregory Bratman of Stanford University in 2015 states that people who regularly walk in nature experience lower rates of depression.
Gear yourself up with a wide brimmed sun hat and/or a natural sunscreen, water, layers of clothing, and shoes or sneakers with support and traction. As a spokesperson and fitness expert for Vionic Shoes, I appreciate the podiatrist-designed support that will keep you on your feet. Bring a walking buddy or pup on the trails to enhance your practice, and even for short walks, carry your cell phone in case of emergencies or let someone know where you will be.
Bringing Practice Into Your Hike
Kinhin is the walking meditation practiced in Buddhism. In kinhin each step is only taken after each full breath with the attitude of being completely present in that step, in that moment. Zen Master Anzan Hoshin says, “Kinhin means to feel a step when taking a step, in other words, to take a complete step.”
One method of practicing this presence is to focus on the very miracle of walking. Is it not a blessed gift that we are given the miracle of living life, starting again with the rise of each day? Is it not then our responsibility to be present and aware that each step is a miracle, a moment to start again, separate from the next and yet uniquely joined together?
Mudras are hand postures that evoke a specific mood or energetic state. One mudra that can be used easily while walking is jnana or chin mudra, which evokes the qualities of wisdom, connection, and spiritual integration or enlightenment. Practice this mudra by touching the tip of your thumb to the tip of your first finger , and maintain the mudra while walking to help focus your mind.
Walk with a Mantra or Affirmation
Just as we “are what we eat”, we become what we think; working with positive mantras or affirmations can have powerful impact on our state of mind. Integrating the repetition of a mantra or affirmation on a walk or hike can be uplifting and can help us focus.
A lovely affirmation to walk to is, “I am a loving, kind person who has an abundance of love in her/his life.” You can also use a Sanskrit mantra, such as “Om Namah Shivaya.” This specific mantra helps cultivate the subtle energy of personal transformation and was famously given to Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love.
Intentional methods of breath work or prayanama can turn a simple walk into an advanced yoga practice. One technique I enjoy is stair pattern breathing. Take four sequential quick, yet intentional inhalations through your nostrils and then follow with four exhalations through your slightly pressed lips: four “steps” up (inhalations) and four “steps” down (exhalations).
A study published by Gregory Bratman of Stanford University in 2015 states that people who regularly walk in nature experience lower rates of depression.
Where to Walk
There are literally thousands of trails throughout the mountains, valleys, and beaches of Southern California. Los Angeles County itself boasts 75 miles of coastline and Griffith Park alone has 50 hikeable miles. Trails through Malibu Creek State Park pass by natural swimming ponds and you can walk to the actual Batcave of the 70s hit show Batman in Bronson Canyon.
If old film locations are not a draw, some beloved scenic hikes include views from Temescal Canyon trails and the namesake waterfalls found along the Sturtevant Falls hike in Sierra Madre. Runyon Canyon offers a strenuous hike, amazing views on a clear day and outstanding people and pup watching, as well as donation yoga classes held on a designated field located just inside the park gates. Unfortunately Runyon will be closed for hiking until July, but yoga will still go on!
For more of an ocean view, the Strand runs 22 miles from Redondo Beach through Manhattan Beach and Marina del Rey to Santa Monica. You could even stop for class at the Yoga Loft, views included.
Closer to the 90210 address without the price tag, try the two-hour free parking at the northwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Doheny Drive near the fountain, then head west along the dirt path to the fountain at Wilshire Boulevard for a popular urban trail. Explore the LA Conservancy’s self-guided tours of Downtown LA; you can raise your heart rate on your lunch break and explore the architecture of this vibrant neighborhood.
There are so many ways to enjoy your walk, so many places to explore that it is almost impossible to get bored. No matter where you take your walk, find what suits you, switch it up occasionally, and remember to take time to appreciate the sights and sounds along the way!
Juliet Kaska is a Los Angeles based fitness expert, owner of JK Zen Fitness, and spokesperson for Vionic shoes: JulietKaskaFitness.com; Vionicshoes.com