How Awe Walking can help you connect with nature and yourself.
To experience awe can mean different things. The emotion you feel listening to a piece of music, a new-born baby taking their first breath. A white, soft sandy beach and turquoise ocean, how the rays of sun glisten and dance on the water like shining stars. The wonder of sunrise with its tinges of pink, orange and gold that gradually fill the sky with a radiant warmth and a sense of new beginnings. These are priceless moments that create precious memories, but in daily life, how do you create your awe? For me it’s being in nature, awe walking, yes, it really is a thing. At this time of year there is nothing more awe inspiring that seeing the transition of season.
In this week’s article, let’s delve into the concept of awe and awe walking. How this mindfulness practice brings numerous benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
What is awe?
I touched on a few examples in the opening paragraph. Awe is the positive emotion you experience. It is characterised as a sense of wonder, admiration, or amazement, in response to witnessing something that is perceived as vast, powerful, or inspiring. I remember my first sight of the Himalayas from a tiny aeroplane as we were coming into land into Kathmandu. I was in complete awe of their rugged grandeur, their majestic peaks and sweeping vistas, so much wonder and beauty in their vastness. How did it make me feel? Connected.
The emotions that come with awe can be one of humility, connectiveness, peaceful, content, upliftment, and a heightened sense of awareness. These moments, like my memory of seeing the Himalayas can ground us in a sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves.
In these very moments when you cultivate or experience a sense of awe, you are fully present. You are being mindful. There are no distractions from mobile devises, or other forms of technology. You are fully there in that moment, isn’t this a wonderful thing? Can you think of anything that can be better for your busy mind, your wellbeing than how you felt in that moment of awe?
The neuroscience of Awe.
There has been a lot of research around the experience of awe. Like mindfulness or meditation, it offers numerous benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. Research by Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, found that awe can reduce stress. It can help reduce inflammation, increase creativity and sociability, and make you feel happy. Dr. Keltner also found that awe activates the vagal nerve clusters of neurons in the spinal cord that regulate various bodily functions, and slows our heart rate, relieves digestion and deepens our breathing.
Being in awe provides a wonderful boost for your mood. Those who tend to experience awe on a daily basis, report lower levels of daily stress and have a more positive life satisfaction and an increase in wellbeing.
In a study of 60 older adult participants, with daily 15-minute walks over a period of 8 weeks, findings suggested that the participants demonstrated a greater sense of joy and prosocial positive emotions during their walks. Throughout the study they were asked to take selfies at the beginning, middle and end of their walk, results showed an increasing smile intensity over the 8 weeks.
Awe can lead to a shift in perspective and a deeper appreciation for the beauty and complexity of life, feeling a greater connection to others and the world.
The practice of awe walking
As I mentioned in my opening paragraph awe walking is a thing, where the intention is to cultivate feelings of awe and wonder. Now I know you cannot magically produce these emotions. However, this practice of slowing down and paying full attention to your natural surroundings is not a new phenomenon. It is a mindfulness practice that bring you fully into the present. Using your senses to connect in with your environment. In doing so, you are open to experience the beauty of all that nature provides. Let’s not forget, we are part of nature.
Use awe walking as an opportunity to remove your ear buds, take yourself away from your electronic devise and be captivated by your natural surroundings. We only have to look at nature to be captivated by awe moments. There isn’t a better time of year than Spring, to allow nature to inspire the feeling of awe.
The essence of Spring is all around you. How everything starts to awaken. There is new life emerging from every corner. Beautiful fresh green leaves, sprouting buds on the trees. There’s even a lightness in how the birds are singing!
How to practice awe walking
One of the concepts of awe walking is to go somewhere you have never been before, or perhaps revisit somewhere you haven’t visited for many years. You are fully present, focusing on your natural surrounding connecting in and appreciation and experience with positive emotions. If you are walking in an area, you have walked many times, look at everything with fresh eyes. Pay close attention to things that you may not normally be aware of.
1.Focus on your breathing
Start your awe walk by bringing full attention to the natural rhythm of your breath. Breath with a ratio of 1-1, which means your breathe in through the nose for a count of say 3 or 4 and then exhale through the nose with the same ratio. As you do so, notice sensation of breath through the nostrils.
2. Start to notice different sounds
As you walk, feel the movement of your feet on the ground and begin to tune into the sounds around you.
The sound of your footsteps, the sounds of nature. Hear sounds that are close by and sounds in the distance. The obvious sounds but also the more subtle sounds. This can be the different sounds of the birds singing. The sound of the breeze rustling through the trees. Be open to all that you can hear. Importantly, notice how it makes you feel.
3. Move you attention to all that you can see.
Things that are vast, perhaps unexpected. Things that may delight you, the new leaves and flowers coming into bloom. Notice all the different colours, shapes, and textures. What surprises you?
Keep returning to your natural breath and the ratio 1-1. Breathing in for a count of 3 or 4 and making the exhalation the same ratio.
4. Move your attention to the sense of touch.
Feel your feet touching the ground as you walk, fresh air touching your skin.
5. To the sense of smell
What aromas can you detect in your environment. Notice the subtle aromas as well as strong smells.
Whether you buy into the concept of awe walking or not. I think this is a lesson in savouring your natural environment. To feel connected to nature and to others. To take a walk, in a local park, down a country lane or along a coastline, to take a break from the busyness of daily life, to be present to all that is around you. Nature offers us so much, and it doesn’t cost us anything.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like to read…
5 ways to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness without meditation
Why it’s important to be mindful.
The five pillars of wellness, the secret to living a balanced life.