One of the most useful and grounding ways of attending to our body is the practice of walking meditation. Walking meditation is a simple and universal practice for developing calm, connectedness, and embodied awareness.
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10 minutes daily for at least a week. Evidence suggests that mindfulness increases the more you practice it.
How to Do It
To practice, select a quiet place where you can walk comfortably back and forth, indoors or out, about ten to thirty place in length. Begin by standing at one end of this “walking path,” with your feet firmly planted on the ground.
Find a location
Find a lane that allows you to walk back and forth for 10-15 paces—a place that is relatively peaceful, where you won’t be disturbed or even observed (since a slow, formal walking meditation can look strange to people who are unfamiliar with it). You can practice walking meditation either indoors or outside in nature. The lane doesn’t have to be very long since the goal is not to reach a specific destination, just to practice a very intentional form of walking where you’re mostly retracing your steps.
Start your steps
Walk 10-15 steps along the lane you’ve chosen, and then pause and breathe for as long as you like. When you’re ready, turn and walk back in the opposite direction to the other end of the lane, where you can pause and breathe again. Then, when you’re ready, turn once more and continue with the walk.
The components of each step
Walking meditation involves very deliberating thinking about and doing a series of actions that you normally do automatically. Breaking these steps down in your mind may feel awkward, even ridiculous. But you should try to notice at least these four basic components of each step:
- The lifting of one foot;
- The moving of the foot a bit forward of where you’re standing;
- The placing of the foot on the floor, heal first;
- The shifting of the weight of the body onto the forward leg as the back heel lifts, while the toes of that foot remain touching the floor or the ground.
Then the cycle continues, as you:
- Lift your back foot totally off the ground;
- Observe the back foot as it swings forward and lowers;
- Observe the back foot as it makes contact with the ground, heel first;
- Feel the weight shift onto that foot as the body moves forward.
You can walk at any speed, but in Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, walking meditation is slow and involves taking small steps. Most important is that they feel natural, not exaggerated or stylized.
Hands and arms
You can clasp your hands behind your back or in front of you, or you can just let them hang at your side—whatever feels most comfortable and natural.
Let your hands rest easily, wherever they are comfortable. Open your senses to see and feel the whole surroundings.
After a minute, bring your attention back to focus on the body. Center yourself, and feel how your body is standing on the earth.
Feel the pressure on the bottoms of your feet and the other natural sensations of standing. Let yourself be present and alert.
Focusing your attention
As you walk, try to focus your attention on one or more sensations that you would normally take for granted, such as your breath coming in and out of your body; the movement of your feet and legs, or their contact with the ground or floor; your head balanced on your neck and shoulders; sounds nearby or those caused by the movement of your body; or whatever your eyes take in as they focus on the world in front of you.
What to do when your mind wanders
No matter how much you try to fix your attention on any of these sensations, your mind will inevitably wander.
That’s OK—it’s perfectly natural. When you notice your mind wandering, simply try again to focus it one of those sensations.
Integrating walking meditation into your daily life
For many people, slow, formal walking meditation is an acquired taste. But the more you practice, even for short periods of time, the more it is likely to grow on you. Keep in mind that you can also bring mindfulness to walking at any speed in your everyday life, and even to running, though of course, the pace of your steps and breath will change. In fact, over time, you can try to bring the same degree of awareness to any everyday activity, experiencing the sense of presence that is available to us at every moment as our lives unfold.
Benefits of Walking meditation
Use the walking meditation to calm and collect yourself and to live more wakefully in your body. Practice at home first.
You can then extend your mindful walking in an informal way when you go shopping, whenever you walk down the street or walk to or from your car.
You can learn to enjoy walking for its own sake instead of the usual planning and thinking and, in this simple way, begin to be truly present, to bring your body, heart, and mind together as you move through your life.
Some benefits of walking meditation are listed below:
- It Connects You More Deeply With the Environment
- It Gets You Out of Your Head
- It Allows You to Commune With Nature
- It Helps You Get to Know Your Body
- It Slows You Down
- It Strengthens Concentration
- It Expands Everyday Mindfulness
- It Helps You Connect to the Present Moment
The mind can go in a thousand directions. But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, a gentle wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.