Walking meditation in a nutshell is consciously paying attention to each step you take in life, learning to be mindful to the matter at hand. So it is in a very literal way of walking, but also in a meaningful way that extends throughout other areas in our lives. As mentioned, learning to be mindful in each step helps not just with the physical act of walking, but ripples out into other areas in our lives. There are different ways to do walking meditation. There are both physical and mental things to pay attention to.
"Oh, beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty to the right of me, beauty to the left of me, beauty above me, beauty below me, I’m on the pollen path" Navaho Wisdom
Why do Walking Meditation?
1. Too much sitting. Most of us in our daily lives and jobs do a LOT of sitting. Our lives have become very sedentary. I’m no exception. My day job involves primarily working on a computer, and sometimes for long stretches at a time. Then I either sit in a car, and drive home (I try to bicycle whenever I can). Then at home, I do some work around the house and in the garden, and then often get back to the computer, or sit and talk with my wife, and read, etc. On top of all that, if you practice sitting meditation as well, well, that is even more sitting! So walking meditation is a way to stay active, and alert, and become present.
2. Another reason why to learn walking meditation, is to use this practice as another aid in meditation. Which is to say, another way to appreciate our life, the present, and everything we love and have. While it is great to practice meditation or prayer, or listen to meditation music in the mornings, or when we’re home. This leaves a long day in the middle that can quickly fill up with distractions, and business that can fill up our minds. So adding walking meditation throughout the day can really help us maintain presence awareness, where sitting meditation would not be feasible. Walking meditation can do for our minds the same thing sitting meditation can do, it can help us stay alert and present throughout our day.
The risks of too much sitting..
With all the research that has been coming out about the dangers and risks of too much sitting, walking meditation is becoming an important tool in avoiding these risks.
In my particular case, I have a back that is more prone to back issues, due to a sciatic nerve that is easily agitated with too much sitting. As happens with a lot of computer workers, my neck and head are also prone to lean forward (especially in front of a computer screen). Hence, I not only want to get up frequently, but feel an urge (signal from my lower back and maybe a stiff neck) to get up and moving at least once or twice an hour. What I do when I walk around the office building is primarily walking meditation.
How to Practice Walking Meditation
Walking meditation can be done at any pace, however, it may make sense to try slowing down when doing walking meditation. That way you can learn how to do it, you learn to pay closer attention. And as a result are more likely to do well when having to walk fast. One of the reasons for slowing down during your walk, is that it is easy to miss what is going on in our bodies (and around us). Let’s break this down into a few components:
Breathing and posture during walking meditation
During walking meditation, pay close attention with your awareness to your breathing, both your in-breath, and your out-breath. Where are you breathing from? Your belly, or your chest? Just as in sitting meditation, make sure you aim for breathing from your belly. Is your belly relaxed, or tight? What about where you walk, if you are crossing a street, is your breathing more uneasy then walking down a busy street or a quiet street? What about a nature path? These may seem like insignificant differences, but they can be very different. I rarely see anyone crossing a street relaxed. Especially when crossing, many people hurry. I think we are conditioned to feel like we’re holding up traffic if we don’t rush. While this may be great for the car driver, and there are good times to walk defensively in case the driver is not paying attention or texting while driving. It is good to ask why? Why is my walking indicating that someone driving a car is more important? This is just an example, but it give you an idea of the kinds of observations that you can have when you slow down and pay attention to what is happening in your body just with the breath.
Noticing the world around you during walking meditation
Besides being aware of what is going on inside your body to reduce stress and incorrect posture, it is also a great time to become aware of everything around.
Hear the sounds such as your own footsteps, those of other folks, the car tires rolling around next to you, the distant train sounds. Try hearing without labeling or letting them turn into thoughts and mental diversions. In other words, being present for each new sound, instead of getting stuck on one sound, or tuning out after one sound you like/dislike.
Smell the scents, the asphalt, the fresh snow, or the blooming trees and flowers. These scents also bring us back into the present moment.
Feel the wind, or gentle breeze flowing around your ears, or through your hair, through the leaves at the trees above you. If there is no wind, what does the stillness feel like? What does it feel like to walk? Notice as much as possible all the various parts in your body, some may be painful, some may feel pleasant. Meditation is just noticing, acknowledging, and accepting these things, then letting it go. Not dwelling anywhere in particular. If it is something that requires attention, such as a hurt ankle, or something else that requires medical attention, then of course we need to take action.
Touch the earth with your feet of course. But notice the whole movement of your body, so that each step is unique, valued, and acknowledged. It’s the journey in other words, not so much the destination that really matters when doing walking meditation.
See the world around you as it really is. Again here it helps to slow down when you walk, you don’t need to walk in a funny way to fully experience the joy of walking meditation. Just occasionally try walking at a leisurely pace. Perhaps you see the leaves twirling, or you see the sun reflecting off the glass windows on the buildings across the street, or you see the smile on the mother’s face. Or you see the beautiful sidewalks, or the cracks on the wall in the corridor. Just remember, you are seeing in way higher resolution than the latest High Definition TV. Easy to miss the beauty all around us at any moment.
The faster you walk, the harder it is to process and appreciate. But also, the more your mind is in turmoil, the harder it is to process anything you see, hear, taste, smell, or touch. Jesus is attributed to have said in the Gospel of Thomas, “The kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.” Walking meditation is one way to start “seeing it”.
(I would love to see what you are finding when you do walking meditation. Please post a comment with your experience below!)
More resources, check out Walking Meditation: Peace is Every Step. It Turns the Endless Path to Joy: