Feel the warmth of sun on your skin.
Hear your footsteps along the path.
See trees’ leaves flutter in the wind.
These are some of the sights and sounds for the walking meditation group at Vinland.
“We want to empower people to be in the moment,” said Vinland Program Services Manager Tom Beckers. “Clients are asked to pay attention to the act of walking; taking each step at that moment.”
Mindfulness has been a dedicated approach to helping clients at Vinland since 2006 when Beckers connected with the University of Minnesota on a mindfulness curriculum. The walking meditation group started meeting this year at Vinland’s residential facility in Loretto.
“The group is a seasonal thing,” Beckers said. “We have this tremendous resource of 178 acres of land here. “
Beckers’ has an interest in brain science related to the field of chemical dependency. He sees the walking meditation group as another way to help clients practice mindfulness to reach recovery.
“The purpose of meditation is to connect the frontal lobe with portions of the mid brain,” Beckers said. “When mental effort shifts from distraction to direct sensation it reduces the intensity of urges or cravings.”
In the early stages of recovery, Beckers encourages clients to make mindfulness a process of paying attention over and over again to what distracts them versus what helps them.
Beckers believes walking outside helps with mindfulness awareness.
“Nature helps the group function more and connect with being mindful of things like the heat from the sun on your skin or the sounds of what’s around you,” he said. “The feeling of just being there and in the moment gives the group a softer energy.”
The biggest challenge for Beckers is finding a way to explain walking meditation to clients and getting them into it.
“It’s not part of our normal framework for things we do, but many people have a hard time being in the present moment,” Beckers said. “It’s about recognizing your thoughts as they come and using the observing power of the brain to point it back to direct experience over and over again.”
Beckers refers to it as “turning on the parasympathetic nervous system,” which is often referred to as “the rest and digest” part of the nervous system in our bodies.
Walking meditation also helps relieve stress in people with traumatic brain injuries. The calming effect of being present in the moment of walking outside can be helpful, he said.
“The only purpose of drugs is to go from discomfort to comfort; the compulsion to leave the moment is addiction,” Beckers said. “We want to help people work to make it more tolerable and to become mindful of that.”
Members of the walking meditation group fan out during a 10-20 minute walking time along the paved path that stretches down to Lake Independence and back. After the walk, clients are quiet and keep to themselves in their meeting room before Beckers asks them to be mindful of the feelings and sensations in their bodies after walking.
“Your body is relaxed and mind is open,” Beckers said after the walk.
The group’s energy is subdued and calm. And Beckers hopes that clients can feel and better understand the efficacy of mindfulness in the recovery process.