We all know the benefits of meditation. Clear your mind, calm your spirit, breathe deeply, and release stress and anxiety. But when you practice walking meditation, you double the stress-relieving and health benefits of meditation! A focused, active body and a peaceful mind sounds like a great way to start out your week or cap off a stressful workday. And once you get the hang of it, walking meditation is easy to incorporate into your daily routine – think walking from your car to the office, or walking from your desk to the break room – without taking time to do a traditional seated meditation. So what is walking meditation, and how do you get started?
What Is Walking Meditation?
Meditation in action is mindfulness – being present in the moment without worrying about the future or the past. So walking meditation, which originated in Buddhist practices, is being intentionally aware of your steps, your breathing, your feelings, and your surroundings. I like it because walking gives you something concrete to focus on, and it’s easier to keep your mind from wandering than sitting meditation.
I find walking meditation is most effective when I am outside and not distracted by traffic. Hiking and nature paths work well, especially for beginners, when it is more important to find someplace isolated and quiet. Our normal state when walking is distracted; we focus on where we’re going, what’s on our to-do list, and how we’re perceived by other people. The walking itself becomes automatic and semi-conscious.
Walking meditation re-focuses our attention on the walking itself, instead of where we’re going. So until you’ve trained your focus, find someplace with minimal distractions to practice your meditation, and wear comfortable clothing and footwear. You can begin practicing walking meditation for as little as 10 minutes a day, and build up as your focus improves and your schedule allows.
How to Practice Walking Meditation – For Beginners
- Center Yourself – Start by standing with your feet shoulders-width apart, shoulders back, and breathing deeply. Feel your connection to the ground and how gravity affects the top of your head to the soles of your feet, anchoring you to the earth.
- Begin Walking – Walk normally, but at a slower pace than usual, paying attention to the movement of your legs and feet that propels your forward. Keep an even gait. If you need help focusing, you can use an internal mantra of left, right, left, right to keep your mind on your steps. I like to pick a clear stretch of path to pace. Walk to a certain spot, stop and center yourself, and walk back the other way.
- Focus on Your Body – Pay attention to your muscles and how they move smoothly as you walk. Bring your attention to each part of your body – feet, legs, core, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and even your face muscles. If you find tension anywhere, release it.
- Focus on Your Breathing – Bring your attention to the air moving in and out of your lungs. Breathe slowly and deeply from your diaphragm, and note the smells – good or bad – that pass your nose as you breathe. Allow yourself to experience the smells in the air without becoming distracted by their sources.
- Focus on Your Feelings – Check in with yourself. How is your body feeling? Refreshed, tense, tired? Acknowledge that. How is your emotional state? Where are your thoughts? If you find your mind wandering, don’t punish yourself. Simply acknowledge whatever distracted you and bring your attention back to your walking.
- Focus on Your Surroundings – The main difference in walking versus sitting meditation is walking meditation allows you to bring your attention externally. Take notice of the ground you’re walking on, the trees surrounding you, flowers along the way, and any birds or squirrels that cross your path. Acknowledge your surroundings as part of your experience, and take note of how any external factors make you feel.
Walking meditation teaches us to enjoy and experience life in the moment, rather than worrying about what’s to come or what we don’t have. It is a healthy way to alleviate stress and anxiety, and begin living a more mindful, contented life. The benefits of walking meditation include moderate exercise, increased brain focus and memory, reduced stress, and an improved mood. Once you’ve trained your focus, you can incorporate walking meditation spontaneously wherever you are, by simply bringing awareness to your movements. No matter how busy you are, walking meditation can help bring some mindfulness to your day.