This exercise is drawn from the broader field of mindfulness meditation and is certainly not described for the first time on this page, nor is this the definitive version of the exercise, which has many variants.
This exercise can be practised at home at any time, inside or outside. But one particular advantage for interpreters is that it can also be practised in your half-hour off, behind the booth and it need only take 5 or 10 minutes.
Interpreters who work in buildings and institutions with built-in booths, will know that there are corridors and spaces behind these booths out of sight of most other people in the building. Sometimes they are even carpetted, which is ideal. (This exercise is much less well-suited to those private market meetings where portable booths are squeezed into the back of a meeting room.)
Leave the booth. Leave or turn your phone off. Take off your shoes. (This is where the carpet comes in handy!)
Fix a spot 4-10 paces ahead of you and walk slowly towards it, taking short strides. When we walk we do it so naturally that we pay no attention to what is going on when we walk. In this exercise we will pay attention, and that attention becomes a form of meditation, which in turn combats stress.
While walking slowly, concentrate on your feet as they contact with the floor. But look ahead. Can you feel your heel touching the floor, then the ball of your foot, then your toes. And then the same on the other foot. Focus on the sensations in your feet.
Keep walking slowly, concentrating on the sensations your feet.
Walk back and forth, slowly. You’re not going anywhere. The point is to take a time out from the booth and focus on the sensations in your feet.
Slowly focus on more detail in your feet. Imagine walking with the care and attention of a gymnast on a beam, or tight-rope walker.
Focus not just the heel hitting the floor, but feel that back of the heel, middle and edges of the heel and then the front of heel contact with the floor. Then the back of the ball of the foot, the middle, the front. The toes. Which toe touches the floor first, which part of each toe? Feel how the skin on each part of your foot compresses and releases with the pressure and release of the foot’s movement.
Every now and again your mind will escape to think of other things – work, the weather, plans for the weekend. Don’t worry. Just bring it back to the sensations in the feet each time.
There are no rules to this exercise but as you keep walking backwards and forwards along your little strip of corridor you may find that you discover more and more sensation in your feet and the skin of your feet. You may also find that you are walking more and more slowly and /or that the length of your stride has shortened. You may even end up walking toe-to-heel.
This very very detailed concentration requires a mental effort, so during this time it is far harder for you mind to be distracted and start thinking of other things – work, bills, plans for the evening etc. It is this rest from thinking that is a type of meditation.
5, or 10, or 15 minutes of this exercise can make a real difference during a stressful day in the booth. Give it a try!