“But the beauty is in the walking—we are betrayed by destinations.” – Gwyn Thomas
It’s not unusual to hear people say that they don’t think they can meditate because they can’t sit still for any length of time. Or that they’ve tried sitting and it just hurts too much, so they quit.
Meditation is usually associated with sitting still, and it can be very challenging. However, there are other options, and one of the best alternatives is to meditate while walking.
Walking meditation can be a great way to get a regular practice started, especially if sitting still makes your knees scream or gives you the heebie-jeebies. And if you already have a sitting practice, walking can bring a welcome change if you find yourself losing interest.
How It’s Done
California-based Buddhist meditation teacher Gil Fronsdal suggests establishing a straight path about 30-40 feet long for walking, since “meandering” will require a part of the brain to be occupied with negotiating a safe path, and the continuity of walking in a circle can reinforce a wandering state of mind.
Begin with a few moments of standing still. Feel your connection to the earth, your balance held evenly on all four corners of both feet. (If it’s safe to do so, try it with bare feet.)
When you’re ready to take the first step, be mindful of how your weight shifts as you lift one foot, move it forward, and place it down, and maintain that awareness with each step as you continue walking forward.
Direct the gaze of your eyes down, six to eight feet in front of you, without looking at anything in particular.
When you reach the end of your pathway, stop and pause for a moment. This provides an opportunity to re-focus if your mind has wandered. Then, turn around and walk back to your starting point.
Work with a pace that’s comfortable for you and allows you to stay connected with the sensation of walking. A faster pace can be helpful if you’re feeling restless or agitated; a slower pace can intensify your concentration skills.
Adding to the Practice
It may take a little while for walking meditation to feel natural and to lose the feeling of self-consciousness. As you get more comfortable with the practice, you can incorporate additional elements, such as:
- Repeating a phrase, like “left foot forward, right foot forward,” or a mantra;
- Asking a question and contemplating it as you walk, without struggling to get an answer;
- Walking “as if you are the happiest person in the world,” a phrase used by Thich Nhat Hanh, who suggests that with each step we print peace, happiness, and serenity on the ground.
Benefits of Walking Meditation
Walking meditation is good preparation for seated meditation, as it warms up the body and loosens stiff joints. It also enhances mental energy, which is a good balance to the concentration required for seated meditation. Try alternating periods of walking with periods of sitting to experience this effect.
With practice, walking meditation can carry over into all parts of our daily lives. For example, you can make a mini-meditation out of walking down the hallway or a trip to the corner deli. As Gil Fronsdal puts it, walking meditation “can reconnect us to the simplicity of being and the wakefulness that comes from it.”
Please leave a comment below and share your experience with walking meditation.