Mindfulness walking meditation: Breathe where you live

Philip Cowell walks us round his London locale, and suggests six Mindfulness meditation experiments 

Brixton, London: traffic lights, zebra crossing, buildings, a railway bridge

Read, amble, grin. What do you do at traffic lights? Laura Eades 2014

 

London’s trendy old Brixton, it turns out, is a great place to breathe. I just went for a wander to see how mindful I could be. Here are six experiments to try yourself, wherever you are.

  • Experiment 1: Notice how you breathe at traffic lights

The traffic lights by the bridge, near the tube

First, I notice how kind the bridge sign is: B OUR GUEST. I’ve always loved that. There’s a kindness and a generosity at the heart of Brixton that people don’t really think of.

The lights are red. A car from under the bridge has overstepped the mark, and it’s now blocking the road for us walkers. Other cars, trying to cross, are beeping at it. I overhear a fellow footsman moaning that this always happens – now it’s green and safe for us to cross, and there’s a car in our way. I start to notice I’m breathing. The breath fills my lungs and my heart expands a little, more than enough to help me cross the road.

  • Experiment 2: Bring other people (so-called strangers) into your practice. Use an interaction with a stranger as another opportunity to slow down and breathe

The stairs at Brixton railway station

I walk through the railway station underpass, past the stairs leading up to the southbound platform, and notice a woman with a heavy case and heart. “Can I help?” She smiles and I lift her case up both flights for her. How is she? “I’m trying to be alright,” and I notice a tightness in her breath. It’s a good answer. We both smile and I slope back down.

  • Experiment 3: Notice when something’s difficult to hear. Try listening again

Listening to a preacher at Brixton tube

When I was in my early twenties, I would walk past one of the regular preachers outside Brixton tube and hold my hands to my ears, trying to make sure he saw me. Sometimes I even said out loud “La, la, la…” Now, I listen in to what the preacher says. Often I stand still nearby. After all, the preacher’s part of my day, I’m part of his, we’re both together inside something we probably don’t know much about. I’m not at all a religious person, but since practising mindfulness, I love hearing religious people speak.

  •  Experiment 4: Sometimes, give up. Go and do something else

The new sculptural granite seat

I sit down on the big oblongy, curvy, granitey sculpture thing at the heart of Windrush Square in Brixton. It’s great for a sitting meditation. The curve of it holds your legs, making you sit up really straight. I close my eyes and start noticing my breathing. Suddenly I notice I’m worried. I feel exposed. I breathe, stand up, leave. It’s fine to feel I’ve failed.

  •  Experiment 5: Take a stand with tall things. Breathe into the bus stop

The Windrush lights

There are these gorgeously peculiar tall light things, near Effra Road, and they’re great for doing a standing meditation. You can stand near anything tall – trees, lights, a building. I look up, following the line they make to the top of the sky. I notice how I feel, and breathe. They are teaching me how to stand. Trees are great for this. Like trees, you will sway ever so slightly. Even at rest, we’re constantly moving.

  • Experiment 6: Do some mindful walking in your favourite nearby park

The Quiet Garden at Brockwell Park

I love mindful walking and there’s nowhere better than the Old English walled garden in Brockwell Park, just near Brixton. It’s designed for quietness, which is brilliant for slow movement. Lift one foot, breathe in, place the foot down, breathe out. Go as slowly as you feel comfortable with in a public space. How curious can you be about the feelings that arise in your body? What thoughts and feelings pass by like clouds? When you pass a park bench with a plaque dedicated to someone who’s died, read it. How does that change things? Don’t we ourselves die a little bit each time we breathe out, only to come alive again the next time we breathe in?

* * *

How do you use your neck of the woods to be mindful? Click on the pale grey dot with a plus sign underneath this post to open the comment thread and chip in.

* * *

Philip Cowell is a writer, dancer, skipper round town, and clown, training to be a mindfulness teacher. Employ him. www.philipcowell.co.uk

* * *

Read more on Illustrated Guide to Life: