Walking: Better for Creativity Than Running?

In my quest to incorporate meditation and mindfulness practice into my summer schedule, I have been trying to take some slow, mindful walks. But only when it is sunny and between 65 and 80 degrees. And not humid. Humidity is gross.

Curiously, I have found that when the weather permits them, these slow walks are far more fertile fodder for creativity and peace of mind than my running ever was. Some of my best ideas for stories or chapters have materialized while meandering through Boston’s streets or hiking in nature this July. After a walk, I feel lighter and calmer; whereas in contrast, after a run, I feel like collapsing. In fact, often I do collapse, quite pathetically, into a sweaty heap on my couch, where other people sit. Typically I follow my couch flop with mindless eating and TV watching that leaves me numb and lethargic.

I used to think that running cleared my head, but as it turns out, it merely catapults me me into the exhilaration and fury of fight-or-flight mode. This is not good. Once I turn up my speed, my mind rushes into the dangerous realm of imaginary-scenarios-that-will-never-ever-happen: I tell off some friend or coworker who jilted me, or I happen to see an ex-boyfriend out while I am wearing that new dress I look great in. (I think this has something to do with adrenaline, but I am not a science teacher and I digress.) Point is, these are not the healthiest of imaginary scenarios. While it’s great to work up a sweat, these fantasies don’t get me anywhere. They feed into an endless cycle: dwell on the past, imagine the future, realize it might not happen, beat self up, experience a dose of mild depression, ignore feelings, sleep, repeat.

When I am walking, it’s different. I notice adorable babies smiling at me and happy elderly couples strolling hand in hand. I look at flowers. Sometimes, I even stop and smell them. Since starting my walks, I have discovered that I love the smell of hyacinths and honeysuckle. Never once did I marvel at this after a run, and when I reflect on it, “I love the smell of those flowers” is a better post-exercise musing than “my ex-boyfriend probably wouldn’t care if he saw me in a hot dress.”

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Not only do I notice beautiful things while walking, but writing ideas also grace me with their presence. They sort of waft over on the warm summer breezes. These walking ideas are fickle: they do not show themselves right away, and there is no guarantee they will creep out of their hiding places at all. They reveal themselves to the spaces in my mind only once I have forgotten that I am walking, once my to-do list melts away and vaporizes, once I stop thinking. The best ideas, for me, are born out of that enchanted moment when a walk becomes a daydream.

This does not happen every time I walk, but hey, it’s worth a shot when the weather is nice anyway, right?

QUESTIONS: Has anyone tried mindful walking? What are the results? Has anyone attempted to run mindfully?

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