While it might seem like a walking meditation is an oxymoronic practice – one filled with contradiction and opposites – the two can balance each other out. One helps to create an anchor for the other. Walking provides a focal point that helps clear the mind of stress and clutter, while meditation helps to bring the small wonders that we usually miss on normal walks to life; including moments to be introspective and reflective. Simply stated, walking meditation is a form of meditation in action. It is taking meditation and adding movement to it.
Traditional walking meditation is a practice within several forms of Buddhism that involves movement and periods of walking between long periods of sitting meditation. Practitioners typically walk clockwise around a room or outdoors while holding their hands in a gesture with one hand closed in a fist while the other hand grasps or covers the fist. While there are not a lot of us that have time for long periods of anything except work or more work; cultivating a walking meditation practice can allow us more time to get things done in a focused and motivated manner while relieving stress and getting in some movement for the physical body.
A walking meditation can be as simple as focusing your attention on one or more sensations that you would normally take for granted – the breath in and out of your lungs, the contact of your feet finding the pavement or grass, the swing of your arms and torso, your head balanced on your shoulders and neck, sounds you hear (birds chirping, children playing, cars, sirens, the wind stirring up the leaves or whistling through the trees); all while you are walking. When we begin to pay attention to these things, it allows us to recognize that there is much that we take for granted and don’t even ‘hear’ anymore – yet a conscious attempt at trying to listen will reveal a myriad of sounds both soft and loud that we might normally ignore or simple not even hear. And this can be the focal point of your meditation. Paying attention to what we feel, see, smell or feel IS the meditation and walking helps to provide a continuous array of sights, sounds, and feels for our minds to contemplate and consider.
Set a goal
There is no wrong way to meditate in general and the same basically applies to developing or practicing a walking meditation. You just have to get started, and you can simply begin by setting your goal, writing it down and then beginning – putting one foot in front of the other! When setting your goal; be realistic. If you set a goal of walking 30 mins a day, everyday…you most likely are going to fail. Be kind to yourself and to the process of setting a realistic goal. A great place to start is once a week for 10 minutes at a time. It’s even okay to make it 5-10 minutes and congratulate yourself if you go over that or do more than once a week. A goal is set; and you will constantly need to re-evaluate periodically (perhaps monthly or quarterly) to reset higher or lower expectations based on your changing schedule both personally and workwise; then it’s time to set the start date. It’s okay to start in a week or even a month if you have excessive responsibilities and duties that are looming. Better to begin when you know for sure that you can commit the time to make a habit out of this process. A walking meditation practice will add years to your life and life in your years; so, it’s worth the time, effort, and wait.
Now that you have a goal of when you are starting and the length of time you are committing to this practice, it’s time to set a path of where you want to walk so that when the time comes you can be ready to take off.
How to practice
Step 1: Stand still. Start by standing still in your starting space. Bring focus to your physical body by standing still and feel the weight of your feet on the ground and the height of your spine as you stand in space with your focus inward on the sensations of being alive.
Step 2: Start walking. Notice how your weight moves in space as you take the first step and each step thereafter. Walk at a normal pace, yet if you normally walk fast, try slowing down so that you can take in more of your surroundings and the feelings that you will feel as you are walking.
Step 3: Become aware of your body. Focus on each part of your body as you take each step. You can start with your feet – how it feel on your foot as it strikes the surface you are walking on and then how that feeling continues up the chain of your legs to your hips and up to your head.
Step 4: Mindful of breathing. Pay attention to how fast or slow you are breathing. How the breath feels as it comes into your body and fills up the lungs, the belly and then exits the body with the exhale.
Step 5: Become aware of what you are feeling. Notice how you feel and everything going on inside your body; even unpleasant feelings. Take these feelings in with no judgement or attachment – accept them for what they are.
Step 6: Notice your thoughts. Become aware of your emotional state and your thoughts. Notice these feelings without judgement and allow them to come and go like the wind blowing the clouds in the sky.
Taking up a walking meditation practice can relieve stress, improve your mental and emotional state and help your internal systems work with harmony to keep you healthy and happy. This process is also fun to begin with a friend or group of friends so that you can keep each other accountable. Nothing like the chiding from a friend or colleague when you forget or cancel your walking meditation ‘date’!! All kidding aside, this is a great way to begin a gentle exercise routine for your physical and mental wellbeing. Get moving and take the next step to better health by starting this simple and effective practice of walking meditation.
Rejuv at Work offers several options for Mind-Body classes and/or workshops such as: Stretch at Your Desk, Deskercise, Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates. These are all ways to help reduce and manage stress and anxiety as well as promote a healthier and happier outlook and work environment. Developing a walking meditation practice can complement these classes, is easy to work into a busy schedule, and can be done anywhere.