What is walking meditation?
In walking meditation we use the experience of walking as our focus. We become mindful of our experience while walking, and try to keep our awareness involved with the experience of walking. Actually, there are several different kinds of walking meditation. We’ll just be looking at one of them in detail, although we’ll touch on the others. Once you’ve mastered one form, you’ll easily be able to pick up the others.
Obviously, there are some differences between walking meditation and sitting meditation. For one thing we keep our eyes open during walking meditation! That difference implies other changes in the way we do the practice. We are not withdrawing our attention from the outside world to the same extent that we do when we are doing the Mindfulness of Breathing or Metta Bhavana (development of lovingkindness) practices.
We have to be aware of things outside of ourselves (objects we might trip over, other people that we might walk into) and there are many other things outside of ourselves that we will be more aware of than when we are doing sitting – especially if we sit inside. These include the wind, the sun, and the rain; and the sounds of nature and of humans and machines.
But one of the biggest differences is that it’s easier, for most people, to be more intensely and more easily aware of their bodies while doing walking meditation, compared to sitting forms of practice. When your body is in motion, it is generally easier to be aware of it compared to when you are sitting still. When we’re sitting still in meditation the sensations that arise in the body are much more subtle and harder to pay attention to than those that arise while we’re walking, This can make walking meditation an intense experience. You can experience your body very intensely, and you can also find intense enjoyment from this practice.
The practice of walking meditation can also be fitted in to the gaps in our lives quite easily. Even walking from the car into the supermarket can be an opportunity for a minute’s walking meditation.
The form of walking meditation we’ll be introducing here is best done outdoors. For your first attempt, you might want to find a park or open space where you will be able to walk for twenty minutes without encountering traffic.
A Beginner’s Guide to Walking Meditation
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress, relax our bodies and quiet our busy minds. But with busy work schedules, family responsibilities and other demands in our day-to-day lives, it can be challenging to find time for a regular practice. Walking meditation is an excellent alternative for incorporating a practice into the gaps in our busy lives. It can be performed anytime you’re walking, whether that is from your car to your home, while in nature or during a leisurely evening stroll through your neighborhood.
Unlike other forms of meditation, walking meditation helps us to use physical movement, in addition to mental and emotional experiences, as the basis for developing an overall greater awareness. We can then take that awareness into the rest of our lives.
Walking meditation can be practiced by experienced meditation practitioners and beginners alike, however if you would like to begin by exploring meditation in a more traditional way, please read Meditation 101: a 10 Step Beginner’s Guide.
How to Start Walking Meditation
Find a location to practice
It is best to begin your introduction to walking meditation outdoors where you can walk uninterrupted with fewer distractions. A park is an excellent choice. As you become more comfortable, you can practice walking meditation anywhere that you walk, including busy sidewalks or shopping malls. When choosing a location for your walking meditation practice, be aware of any possible safety concerns such as tripping hazards, obstacles or traffic.
Begin by standing tall. Feel your feet root into the ground beneath you. Elongate your spine as if a thread extending from the top of your crown was pulling your head, neck and back straight up towards the sky. Notice how your weight moves from side to side or front to back as you balance.
Turn your attention to your breath. Breathe silently, yet deeply. Engage your diaphragm and fill your lungs, but do not force your breath. Allow your belly to rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. Notice how your breath affects your body. Does deep breathing help you to stand taller? Does it energize you? Calm you?
Look ahead and begin to walk forward. Don’t rush. Simply walk at a comfortable pace and allow your body to establish a comfortable stride length.
Relax and be aware of your entire body
Begin by drawing your attention to the soles of your feet. Notice how they make contact with the ground as they roll from heel to toe and then travel through the air to stride forward. Notice how your ankles flex, how your calf muscles contract and how your knees bend. Feel the rotation in your hips, the flexion in your lower back. Let your arms swing naturally at your sides, your hands relaxed at the end of your wrists. Feel your shoulders move in their sockets. Release any stress you hold in your jaw, face and forehead. Gaze softly ahead. As you draw awareness to each part of your body, direct your breath to that area and consciously ask it to relax. Imagine your body releasing tension with each breath and movement.
Immerse yourself in your surroundings
Notice the sun on your face, the wind blowing through your hair, the sound of the kids playing nearby or horns honking. If you’re walking indoors, notice the sound of other people talking, the sound of footsteps and the hum of lighting fixtures. Don’t react to these external stimuli, simply notice them.
Draw your attention inward. Are you bored, excited, content, irritated or happy? Acknowledge how you feel and be mindful of this moment. Don’t think to the future or the past. Be present.
There is no right or wrong length of time to practice walking meditation. Your practice may be quite short if you simply walk to the mailbox, or it may be long if you incorporate your practice into a weekend hike through the woods. You decide. When ending your practice, don’t come to an abrupt halt. Simply slow down and come to a natural stop.
Integrate your experience
Take a moment to feel what it’s like to be still again. Stand tall. Notice your surroundings, your body and your emotions. How is this moment different than when you began your walking meditation? Even without judgment or reaction, by simply being aware of your physical, mental and emotional experience throughout your meditation, you have changed.
Remember that walking meditation is unlike other forms of meditation. While it can be a very peaceful practice, it is an active meditation often practiced in locations with many sounds and distractions. Don’t be discouraged if your mind wanders with these distractions. Use the steps outlined in this guide to help focus your awareness. If your mind does become distracted, simply acknowledge those thoughts, then set them aside and continue your meditation. As you become more experienced, it will be easier to maintain your focus.