Tips to make your Dawn Walk extra mindful from Mental Health Champion and running coach Kate of The Mind Runner
Moving body and mind
It’s a well known fact that moving outside, especially in nature, brings incredible health benefits to your body and mind. Studies show that even just 20 minutes per day spent in nature can lower stress hormone levels, boost self-esteem and improve mood.
And what better time to immerse yourself in the natural world than at sunrise – the start of a new day, a new beginning, time to reflect and be grateful. As you embark on your Dawn Walk adventure, follow these mindfulness tips and techniques to enhance your sunrise experience, to enjoy every moment and to maximise the benefits on your physical and mental health.
Connect to the quiet
Before you start your Dawn Walk, take a moment to close your eyes and enjoy the stillness. Pay attention to the calm and quiet around you, and tune in to your surroundings – what can you hear? Can you hear any traffic? The dawn chorus? Or complete silence? As you take the first steps on your challenge, listen to the noise your feet make as you connect to the earth below you. Connecting to the world around us in this way allows us to be more mindful, more present and to enjoy each step along the journey.
As you settle in to your walk and find your comfortable pace, pay attention to your breathing. Your body is warming up now – notice if your heart rate has increased and if your breathing has quickened. Take time to really connect to your breath – focus on one aspect, maybe the fresh air as it enters the tip of your nose, or your chest rising and falling. Pay attention to the smell of the air – does it seem fresher at sunrise?
Check in with yourself
Moving outside in nature can quieten the mind and make us feel calmer and more positive. Use this quiet time to check in with yourself. What’s going on with you right now? Take a moment to consider the thoughts that pop into your mind as you walk. Are they positive or negative? Are you planning or worrying? Identify these thoughts and label them – e.g. “I’m thinking about my work deadline”. Then let that thought go. Keep coming back to the world around you (smells, sights, sounds) to bring yourself back to the here and now, rather than spending time in your head.
Stop and bathe
Plan your route to include forest or woodland, or if this is not possible, get as close to trees as you can. Developed in Japan in the 1980s, forest-bathing (or Shinrin Yoku) has now become part of the country’s national health programme and many other countries are now following suit with several Nordic hospitals building wards in woodland to promote healing. Studies have found that exposure to phytoncides — naturally produced compounds found in trees — can lower blood pressure, relieve stress and boost immune function. So stop and take in the trees that you pass – touch their leaves, feel the bark, pay attention to their smell and listen to the wind in the branches.
Release your happy hormones!
Movement triggers the chemical release of hormones in the body, several of which can boost our feelings of positivity and wellbeing. Endorphins are released when we exercise, and this hormone can boost our mood and feelings of happiness. Regular exercise leads to higher circulating levels of the hormone dopamine, which helps you anticipate pleasure, feel motivated, and maintain hope. As the sun rises, feel the sunlight touch your skin. Exposure to sunlight increases the brain's release of the hormone serotonin, associated with boosting mood and helping you feel calm and focused. Movement and exercise also reduces the levels of cortisol in your body, the hormone associated with feelings of stress.
Walk and talk
If you are walking with friends, use this quiet time to connect, to check in with them and to ask them how they are. Remember to ask twice – if a friend says they're fine, they might not be. A second ‘how are you?’ can make all the difference. Exercising with friends also helps to release another of our happy hormones – oxytocin (known as the love hormone) is released when we spend time with people we care about, and in turn can make us feel relaxed and more likely to open up and share our feelings.
As you walk, connect to the world around you and take it all in. Pay attention to the sights, the sounds and the smells; absorb the silence of the morning and the beauty of the sunrise. Bring to mind three things for which you feel thankful – a person, a place and a moment in your life. Finally when you end your Dawn Walk, identify one thing for which you feel grateful about the event itself – maybe the company, the route, the weather, or the simple joy that moving outdoors brings.
Breathe in the fresh air, feel the ground under your feet and take in all the colours and sounds at sunrise.
To read more about mental health and mindfulness while walking and running, visit Kate's website themindrunner.co.uk