Recently, I benefited from several days of steady practice as I traveled the cobblestone streets of Oaxaca, Mexico. When but on vacation would I ever spend an hour or two a day pursuing an exercise that promotes balance and lowers stress? A few years ago, researchers at Oregon Research Institute in Eugene determined that walking on cobblestones can improve balance while lowering blood pressure and stress. Participants in the 2005 research study walked on rubber "cobblestone" mats, designed to replicate cobbled paths in China where medical practitioners recommend the health benefits of cobblestone walks to stimulate acupressure points on the feet.
I'm not sure about the stress benefits of my walks in Mexico--this was a holiday free of the normal demands of daily life. But there's no question that walking these rock-paved streets increased mindfulness and focus. Some of the streets on the one-mile route from the inn to the central plaza of the city had been newly cobbled in recent years. Other sections of the route were ruggedly potholed. Uneven surfaces provided a powerful incentive for sustained mindfulness as I traveled the streets of the city.
Back home, I'm not interested in replacing the cobblestones of Oaxaca with the rubber "cobblestone" mats that one can purchase on line, so I'm tackling balance with renewed commitment to one-legged yoga stands and straight-line walks along the hardwood seams of my living room floor.
My smart phone has also assumed a role with a daily 9 a.m. reminder to "get grounded." The reminder app delivers a unique sound, giving me an auditory prompt that directs my focus to the soles of my feet. Literally, I take a moment to feel my feet becoming grounded and connected to the earth or the floor. Often, I glance out the window and take a visual cue from the trees in my landscape. With more trees than cobblestones on my walking paths in Eugene, oaks and firs and Japanese maples are beginning to replace cobbled walkways as gentle reminders of balance. "Get grounded, get balanced, get present," they prod when my mind has spun off on a precarious detour of its own. The trees, like the cobblestones, are patient gurus in an ongoing pursuit of mindfulness.
Sensory awareness, focusing on what you see, feel, smell, or hear as you walk is a wonderful mindfulness tool. See Get Your Feet on the Ground for more ideas. Sign up above to have new posts on this blog sent directly to your email address. If you signed up in the past but are not receiving delivery, try again and be sure to respond to confirmation email you will be sent.