When meditation is mentioned, we often imagine the practice that involves sitting down somewhere outside or in a room, either on a chair, bench or meditation cushion with the feet on the ground or when seated in the lotus position, as most images of the Buddha are.
However, there are many ways to do meditation. You can do it when seated or while moving. One of the “moving” meditations is the walking meditation, that is commonly referred to as “meditation in motion”.
It is a great practice that helps us use the normal activity of walking to train ourselves in awareness.
Let’s take a deep look at walking meditation.
What is Walking Meditation?
Walking meditation can be simply defined as meditation while moving. Although it may sound a bit insufficient, this definition sums up the whole idea of the practice.
The exercise is aimed at increasing your awareness as you walk and being mindful of the body, sensations and feelings with every step.
By remaining in the present moment as you walk, and while giving your attention to this activity of walking, you are able to clear up your mind from distractions and the racing thoughts which helps you calm down and relax.
Walking meditation can be compared to the normal walking we do when we are moving from one place to another except there are 2 aspects taken into consideration.
That is focus and pace.
Your focus should be on the walking activity and your pace should be fairly comfortable for you, often slower than your normal pace.
In this practice, you maintain your awareness in the experience of walking with your eyes open and your mind and body firmly grounded in the present moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the most popular walking meditation experts describes this practice as imprinting serenity, calmness, happiness and peace on the ground with each step.
He also says, “You do it as if you are the happiest person in the world. And if you can do that, you succeed in walking meditation.”
By being fully involved in the experience of walking, you are able to enjoy the benefits the exercise has to offer.
How Walking Meditation Works
Walking meditation is pretty much the same as any other form of meditation, with the only exception being doing it as you walk.
You need to be in a meditative state as you do the practice so that you maintain the quality of experience and get to gain value from it.
Normally, most people who do this practice start by doing a seated meditation so that they are able to fully immerse themselves in the meditative state that they will later take outside with them as they walk.
It helps you blend mindfulness in with the walking to make it productive and valuable. The good thing about it is that it helps you avoid sleeping while doing the meditation practice which is one of the challenges most meditators struggle with.
It also helps to reduce the effort it will take to get into the deeply calm and wakeful state if you start with walking meditation right off the bat.
Although, it is worth noticing that everyone is different and there are people who are easily able to concentrate when walking than when seated.
This meditation can be done anywhere outside. You can do it in the compound of your home, in your neighborhood or even in the woods where nature is at its best.
It all depends on what is available to you and how far you are willing to go to make the practice work for you.
Although it is mostly done by focusing on the walking experience, walking meditation is also practiced in many different ways and the object of focus varies from one form of walking meditation to another.
There are those who focus on the walking rhythm while there are those who focus on the present moment sensations and thoughts, which is called open monitoring, among others.
Let’s take a look at some types of walking meditation:
1. Thich Nhat Hanh walking meditation – This is a walking meditation that was taught by Thich Nhat, Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam and the founder of Plum village. Here, the emphasis is in the activity of walking without hoping to get to an end or achieving a goal. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, the goal of this is in the walking and the experience of it. With every step, a smile and opening ourselves to experience peace and happiness.
2. Theravada walking meditation – This is another type of walking that has its weight on the sensations as you walk. You do this practice as you walk on a path, forward and backward while maintaining your focus on the practice which can be fairly difficult to do. Actually, this is one of the most demanding styles.
3. Mindfulness walking meditation – This is the most common type and it is based on mindfulness. Just like Theravada walking meditation, your focus should remain in the sensations and the perception experience in the “now” as you are walking.
4. Zen walking meditation – Also called the Kinhin practice, this type has detailed ways of how you should walk, the direction of your walking, the posture and the pace. It is normally done a few times while doing the seated meditation (which is called Zazen). You get to walk slowly in a clockwise direction as you meditate.
How it is Different From Other Forms of Meditation
Compared to sitting meditation which is what most styles of meditation such as chakra meditation and vipassana meditation, are based on, walking meditation has some unique aspects to it that make it more preferable to some people.
When doing sitting meditation, your focus and awareness is mostly directed inwards towards your breath, perceptions and sensations. But with walking meditation, you not only get to focus and be aware of the inside but also of the outside.
You have to keep your eyes open and be careful of the surrounding objects to make sure you don’t fall or get injured. You also get the chance to strengthen the mind and body connection that enhances your experience all the more.
Secondly, with walking meditation you are able to experience the perceptions and sensations at a deeper level than when you are seated. The sensations and feelings when you are in a seated position are far toned down and hard to focus on than when in a moving state.
When you are walking, you are able to feel them much deeply and it gets you more involved in the practice. Also, the environment and the experience of nature is more interesting as you walk than when you are seated somewhere outside.
This is the reason why a good number of people prefer walking meditation.
However, it is also possible to get tired from the walking exercise and that is why it’s encouraged to combine walking with sitting meditation for more benefits.
You only need to experiment with the two exercises and find your personal sweet spot that allows you to enjoy meditation while sitting and also while walking without going to either extreme.
Benefits of Walking Meditation
Here are some of the listed benefits of walking meditation:
1. Improves concentration – Studies on mindful movement exercises likes walking meditation, Tai Chi and yoga show that they have a great positive impact on our attention. The more we do these practices, the better our levels of concentration and attention get (1).
2. Reduces anxiety – Research shows that there is a significant reduction in anxiety when you walk before or after meditation. By walking, you easily get yourself away from the places that allow you to focus on your anxiety and the very activity of walking allows you to release physical and mental pressure that comes with anxiety and make you focus on the walking and the present moment (2) (3).
3. Reduces depression – A 12 weeks study on how meditation coupled with walking based exercises that improve the body’s cardiovascular system in absorbing and transporting oxygen help, showed that depression can easily be handled with consistently doing these exercises. Mindful walking can help you change the way you respond to thoughts and feelings of depression which can greatly improve how you handle it (4).
4. Strengthen our bond with the environment – As we do walking meditation, our senses are actively working on taking the sight, smell and the voices of the environment which makes us more involved in what is happening around us. This makes us become more absorbed in the environment, that walking experts like Thich Nhat Hanh perceived to be a being full of compassion and affection. In the long run, we get closer and closer to our environment and our emotional strength grows.
5. Strengthens our mind and body connection – There exists a connection with your mind and body and when you work on one of them, you are also improving the other to a certain extent. Doing mindful walking allows you to work on both at the same time and make the connection stronger and better (5).
How to do Walking Meditation
As earlier mentioned, there are varying ways to do walking meditation and you are completely free to work with whatever style you feel is your right fit.
Here is a standard version of walking meditation that can be used by anyone anywhere to have an experience of the exercise:
Step 1: Choose a comfortable place, anywhere you feel gives you the best environment to meditate – The place should be ideally quiet, free of distractions and fairly flat to avoid stumbling. You can choose to meditate in a park, a certain street, by the beach, lake or ocean, in the woods or even in a well spaced room.
Step 2: Create a good base for the practice – Start with breathing in and out a couple of times. Then feel your feet on the ground and how stable you are when you are standing. Take note of the sensations, feelings and thoughts that are coming up during that moment, without doing anything about them.
Step 3: Start walking – Look ahead and make sure everything is right and then begin walking. You can place your hands wherever you like. You can choose to leave them to swing by your sides or hold them close to your navel or even behind your back. Now, as you walk slowly, focus on every step you make. Pay attention to the rising and falling of each foot and how the foot touches the ground starting from the heel to the toes.
Walk for a few minutes and then turn, if you are going back and forth. If you are going in a circle or along a straight path, don’t worry about the turning part.
Step 4: Keep your attention to your thoughts, feelings, moods and sensations as you walk – Your mind may drift off to other things and this is common and accepted. It is part of the practice. What you need to do is, when you notice your mind has drifted, gently bring your attention back to your thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Step 5: Tune in to the nearby sounds – Now notice any sounds around you. Don’t label or judge them according to your taste and preferences. Just simply acknowledge their presence without getting attached to them.
Step 6: Tune in to any smell – Pay attention to any smell dominating the place you are doing your meditation. Observe how your mind is connecting that smell to something in the past. But remember not to judge. Just observe.
Step 7: Tune in to anything in sight – Now take note of the things you are seeing without having your attention captured by any specific thing. Observe the things you can see in the environment and how you are taking one step followed by the other while avoiding obstacles. Just simply look and see without any opinions or any specific area of interest.
Step 8: Tune in to everything – Now have a general sense of awareness of all that is happening in the present moment. Observe yourself and all that you are feeling and doing as well as everything that is happening around you.
Step 9: Focus on your movement and physical sensation – Now bring your awareness back to where it was when you started. Notice the pace and rhythm of your walking. Notice your feelings, thoughts and sensations as you walk.
Step 10: Finalize the session – Stop walking and take note of the feeling of your feet as you are standing . Make the intention of finishing the meditation session.
Step 11: The meditation session is now over.
Feel free to use any guided meditation resources such as meditation apps, audios and videos to help you with your session as you start out and you can even choose to be working with them in all your sessions whenever you meditate.
Also, it is important to incorporate what you get out of meditation sessions in your daily life. Figure out how you can get and remain in the meditative state whenever you are walking, whether it is from home to work, from one room to another or any other distance you know you cover every day. This could be a good opportunity to improve yourself.
FAQ’s on Walking Meditation
Question: What is the reward or the end goal of the walking meditation practice?
Answer: Other than the benefits you get from it, walking meditation has its best reward in the very practice without seeking any future gratification. With it, you don’t seek to get to any end or destination. The process and the experience is the very essence and beauty of it.
Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Because we do not set ourselves a goal, or a particular destination, we don’t have to worry or hurry because there is nothing there for us to get.”
By being completely absorbed and fully involved in the practice and with our focus, attention and awareness fully invested in the activity, you will have a much better, liberating, peace-giving and joy-bringing experience.
Question: How long should the walk take?
Answer: Again, the exercise is not more about how much distance you can cover. Thich Nhat Hanh stresses, “Walking is not a means, it is an end by itself.” So you only need to start with a distance you feel you can manage but with your primary focus on being fully involved in the practice. You can always try out different ranges of distances to see what is good for you.
Question: At what speed should I walk?
Answer: The speed varies from individual to another as well as the type of walking meditation you are doing. There are styles of meditation that prescribe a certain speed and with others you just have to figure it out for yourself. Ultimately, the speed should be such that you are able to do the practice with minimal distractions and without overwhelming yourself. You can start with walking as you naturally do and play around with different speeds to find your optimal speed.
Question: What should I wear when meditating?
Answer: Generally, it is recommended to wear loose clothing when meditating to avoid the discomfort of tight clothes. If you will be meditating on a fairly rocky path, it is good if you wear shoes that will make the practice smooth for you. Ideally, wear something you know will favor the practice based on the weather and environment where you are meditating.
Question: What are some tips for making walking meditation effective?
Answer: Here are a few things to keep in mind when doing the practice:
* Remember that, just like any other form of meditation, walking meditation is fairly hard but doable. So don’t feel discouraged when things fail to go as planned. It is common and you just need to keep at it to get better.
* Use guided meditation to help make your first few steps into the exercise productive and seamless.
* Remember, the more often you do it, the better you get at it and the more you get to enjoy the benefits.
In essence, walking meditation makes an interesting practice if you are someone who loves talking a walk. It will help you become more aware and increase your inner peace and calmness.
You can always start by doing it at your home and then with time, slide it in your travels and visits to the shopping center or church, school or workplace.
You can also do it as you move from one place to another in your house or place of work.
The basic idea behind the practice is to help you become completely aware in your day to day life. Meditation gives you the foundation and paves way for applying it in your life.
It will not only enhance your level of mindfulness and bring your peace and calmness but also make your walking more interesting than you perceive it.
It will make it much better than the normal tiresome activity we do on our way to work or school while thinking about all the things you have to do throughout the day.