The word meditation conjures up images of serene figures seated on round cushions, eyes blissfully closed. However, sitting meditation is only one of the many ways to practice mindfulness meditation.
If your restless spirit is too challenged by sitting meditation, or you’re looking for a way to expand your mindfulness practice, walking meditation is a wonderful alternative and is just as effective. Some people prefer a moving meditation, such as yoga, walking, or even a mindful jogging practice.
It’s also a wonderful practice to go to if you are feeling charged by difficult emotions, such as anxiety or anger. You can invite that emotion to come on a walk with you and really be present with it, literally get in step with what it is and allow it to open up and really be seen and felt.
In this way, walking meditation can help manage those big feelings by literally moving us through them. The energy and movement of walking meditation can help us to release those dynamic emotions.
Benefits of Walking Meditation
In a world where we tend toward sedentary pursuits, an option to relax while in motion is a definite draw. In our on-the-go culture, having a way to actively slow down is appealing. In addition to getting our bodies up and moving, walking meditation also benefits our mental health. Practitioners may experience:
- improved balance
- improved cardiovascular fitness
- improved mental health
- improved memory and concentration
In many cases, the benefits of walking meditation are even greater than the benefits of regular walking. As with a regular walking habit, you don’t need any special equipment or skills to start, just the willingness to commit to the practice. You can start today, right now.
Certainly you can bring more mindfulness into your life at any moment, however walking meditation is not synonymous with walking more mindfully as you take the dog for a daily stroll. While encouraging mindfulness throughout the day during all activities is welcome, walking meditation is a more specific practice.
There is no secondary motivation, such as walking the dog or going “somewhere.” You very pointedly choose a path that goes nowhere, a straight line you’ll travel back and forth, or a circle you can loop around. Some people have found an affinity for walking labyrinths or spirals.
Hands may swing freely, hang at your sides, or be clasped in front or behind you.
In a world where we are always feeling we are running behind like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, we can step into walking meditation with the peace and joy of knowing it’s okay to go nowhere.
Keep It Simple
Keep it simple to begin with, following your footfalls by noting the left, right, left, right pattern or stepping and lifting pattern. As you gain experience with this practice, you may begin to perceive the complexity of walking with greater awareness.
Stay with the step. Just as you follow the breath in sitting meditation, the sensation of the air moving in and out of your nose, keep your awareness on the act of walking, of lifting your foot and placing it down. In the same way you might say “breathing in, breathing out” in order to keep the mind focused on the present, say “left, right, left, right,” or “lifting, stepping” as you lift and place each footstep.
Count your steps. This is a different kind of step counting than fitness counting. You can count forwards to 10, then backwards from 10 to 1, helping the mind to stay focused on the present action.
Be kind to yourself. There’s a misconception in the world of meditation that distracted thoughts shouldn’t be part of the process. Even experienced meditators have wandering thoughts. They are kindly but firmly guide their thoughts back to the breath and the steps without getting frustrated by the distraction.
If your attention wanders, and it likely will, bring it gently back to awareness of your steps. Wandering thoughts are often part of any meditation session. Just bring your attention back to your stepping. Over time, you can broaden your awareness to more sensations than simply noting when you are stepping.
There is more happening than just lifting the foot and placing it on the ground. There is the moment where your weight shifts from one foot to the next, the point of contact of heel then toes, the lightness of the lifting foot and the heaviness of the falling foot. All of these more subtle awarenesses will come in time with mindful practice.
Consistency is more important than duration. Pick a set amount of time you know you can do and show up for the practice a set number of times per week. An accountability partner may be helpful. Walking meditation can be done alone or with a partner or a group.
If showing up for a regular practice seems daunting, inspire your commitment to a more consistent practice with the accomplishments of others. From the simplicity of beginning a small daily practice to this powerful tale of completing the Sennichi Kaihogyo.
You need not do 1,000 consecutive days of walking meditation to begin to feel the benefits of the practice, however knowing what is possible may spur you on to more consistent endeavors, helping you find your own way to a beneficial practice day by day.
All Paths Are The Right Path
“Every path, every street in the world is your walking meditation path.” -Thich Nhat Hahn
You don’t need a dedicated space, but choosing a location ahead of time helps. It can be done anywhere, although taking your walking practice out in nature confers the added benefit of immersing yourself in the natural world.
Consider a walk near a favorite body of water or an easy forest trail. Although it may be lovely to set your walk against the backdrop of a beautiful river or waterway, your attention remains on the sensation of walking.
Choose a set time and location. This helps in a couple of ways. Points of decision can distract from the process of deepening your meditation experience. The mind loves the novelty of choice. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Taking away choice by deciding precisely where and when you will practice keeps you from the trap of decision-making at the start of your practice.
Words to Walk By
There are many wonderful quotes that may enhance your practice, and keeping one beside your bedside or front door may inspire your dedication to the practice of walking meditation. Here are a few to get you started:
“Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility.” – Gary Snyder
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Gautama Buddha
The late Thich Nhat Hahn was a proponent of walking meditation and has a lovely poem about the subject, a good companion piece for that work. A few well placed words can do wonders for your resolve. Hang these reminders where you can see them often. They are powerful tools to stave off resistance and get you to your point of practice, whether on the mat or off.