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Illustration by Marley Allen-Ash

I didn’t mean to start walking naked. I had actively avoided it. But, when I upgraded my phone, the new model didn’t have the input for my wired, over-ear headphones. Ugh. I loved those headphones. They were a helpful deterrent during my walks, signalling to others, “Sorry, can’t chat, listening to something really important.”

And I was listening to something important: a podcast, an audible book or a phone call. I didn’t have time to waste doing nothing while walking!

Even though my headphones didn’t fit, I still needed to get my 10,000 steps in for the day. So I walked alone, without the headphones, without my phone …. naked. I disliked it. I felt weird, exposed and not in control. I was restless and hopeful that people wouldn’t want to stop and chat. There was too much silence and not enough productivity.

There is irony here. I am a psychotherapist. I spend many hours each week learning about and sharing the benefits of mindfulness, silence, meditation, and …. walking naked. I often talk about the advantages to mental well-being by slowing down, breathing and allowing oneself to “be in the moment.”

I was having a “physician heal thyself” moment.

Why was I rejecting my own suggestions so fervently? Why did walking without distraction feel so annoying? I believed and understood all of the excellent research. I helped many clients embrace this strategy. But something was getting in my way. So I tried again. And again. I still felt bored, anxious, not useful enough. I had emails to answer, kids to think about, groceries to buy, dinners to cook, and clients to prepare for … So. Many. Things. Did I deserve this luxuriously uncomfortable time?

I kept trying.

Oh no! My favourite restaurant just closed

It got a little easier. I started to notice that I enjoyed creating a rhythm with my breath. In through my nose and long exhales through my mouth. I stopped a few times because I thought I sounded ridiculous … but to who?! I noticed how I often looked at the ground, so I practised looking up at the clouds or trees. I had to remind myself (repeatedly) that this was a good use of time and that this “naked walk” contributed to my well-being.

I ordered new wireless headphones. I used them for a few walks and then put them away. I felt like I was learning something important in my uncomfortable naked walking. I persevered.

I started each walk with a breathing pattern. It was good. Then, I would recklessly abandon the breathing and the looking at trees for a series of anxious thoughts, to-do lists, what-ifs, and worry.

I’ve quit exercise before – so many times. I have been trying to become a runner for over 20 years. I always quit. I started to wonder why. In most ways, I can set a goal and see it through to completion. But exercise and caring for my body, mind and emotions feels indulgent.

Could I be a caring mom, wife, therapist, daughter, sister, aunt, friend AND prioritize myself? This all sounds pretty ridiculous from a person so often helping clients come to this very realization, but it was like a revelation. What the heck was I avoiding? Was this uncomfortable feeling even about the exercise? Um …. I think not.

The thing about a revelation is it isn’t always whole, quick and clear. It sometimes hits you but then hides a little. I feel like I’m learning something, but it’s still fuzzy. So I keep walking naked. It still feels a little uncomfortable. I still struggle to stop myself from avoiding the daily commitment. But, there has been an improvement in my self-talk. I notice what swirls within my head as I walk without distraction and practice letting anxious, what-ifs thoughts leave. I keep the breathing pattern longer and return to it near the end of my walking loop. I think less. I notice trees more. Sometimes, I repeat mantras as I walk: “I am worth this time.” “This is the most productive thing to do.” “Keep going; you got this.”

As a millennial mom, I’m torn between paying attention to my child and my phone

The best part is I have transferred many naked walking habits into other parts of my life. Practising skills while walking without distraction is time well spent. I can easily slip into my breathing rhythm during the day to centre my mind. I notice my self-talk more consistently and can keep it quieter and more positive. I use mantras during demanding tasks. I can focus better. My resting heart rate is lower. I feel calmer – more of the time. I reach for my phone less. I’m present with my family more. It’s like addition by subtraction: take an hour to walk daily and add presence of mind and serenity.

Yesterday, I smiled and said “Hello!” to five fellow neighbourhood walkers, and I liked it! Was this what I had been avoiding? Friendly micro-interactions with other humans? Smiling? Counting the benefits I have discovered (begrudgingly) through this adventure of naked walking is hard. I know the pros will continue to reveal themselves, and the skills practised during that one-hour daily walk will continue to spill into my day-to-day living. I began this experience by accident, and it has changed every part of my life. I continue my daily ritual with interest and curiosity. I miss my podcasts and audible books, but, well, I don’t need to drive naked!

Siobhan Chirico lives in Burlington, Ont.

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