Walking Your Way to Mindfulness

Published by Charles Francis on

By Charles A. Francis

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment, and feeling truly alive.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

A while back, the BBC did a piece on the death of “purposeless walking.” Many famous thinkers were walkers, including Henry David Thoreau, Constantin Brancusi, and Friedrich Nietzsche, and wrote about the way it helped them clear their mind and spark inspiration. Perhaps people are walking for walking’s sake less frequently these days, but there is a rise in purposeful walking.

Walking for a purpose—to still the mind, heal the body, and restore balance and calm—is making a comeback. This is called walking meditation. Walking meditation is another form of meditation that’s commonly practiced in Buddhism. It’s wonderful for people who can’t sit still, and it’s great for developing concentration without getting bored.

Mindful walking has a very strong calming effect. There are two reasons for this. First, it challenges your sense of balance. If you have to pay close attention to keeping your balance, then you force yourself to concentrate and be mindful, and therefore, stay in the present moment. Second, by slowing down your body, you force your mind to slow down also.

How to Practice Walking Meditation

You can use the same techniques and formats that you use in sitting meditation. The only difference now is that you perform them while walking. With walking meditation, you will walk much slower than usual. When walking in an open area, you can walk at a pace of about 2-3 seconds per step. In a more confined area, you can walk at a pace of about 5-6 seconds per step.

If you want to practice concentration with walking meditation, then focus your attention on just one aspect of the walking motion, such as the sensation on the bottom of your feet as you take each step. Incorporate one of the counting schemes we use in sitting meditation. When your mind goes astray, bring it back immediately, and continue counting your footsteps.

If you want to practice mindfulness with walking meditation, then gently observe all the parts of your body that are involved in the walking motion, such as your feet, calves, thighs, hips, and shoulders. What other parts of your body are involved? Notice the way they move, and how they all work together to perform one graceful motion. How about your balance? What’s involved in keeping your balance?

When any of the hindrances arise, deal with them in the same manner as during sitting meditation. Then bring your attention back to your footsteps. As you can see, you can learn so much about your body by walking mindfully.

Incorporating Walking Meditation into Your Mindfulness Practice

I usually incorporate walking meditation into my meditation session. I’ll begin with about 10-15 minutes of walking meditation, and then do about forty minutes of sitting meditation. This serves several functions:

  • It helps my mind settle down. By walking slowly, I force my mind to slow down.
  • It keeps my body from getting uncomfortable from sitting for long periods.
  • It helps me burn off any excess sugar that may be in my bloodstream, which can make me feel restless or anxious.

You can use walking meditation in different ways:

  • At the beginning of your session, as I’ve just described, to help you ease into your meditation.
  • In the middle, to ease some of the discomfort from sitting for a long time.
  • At the end, to also help ease some of the discomfort from sitting. It can help on those occasions when you may have difficulty sitting still for whatever reason.

Sometimes, I will even do a whole session of walking meditation. This can be very calming if you do it outside in a beautiful setting, such as a park or garden. In addition to being mindful of your footsteps, be mindful of your surroundings. Enjoy the beauty and wonders of nature, such as the fresh air, sunshine, trees and flowers, and all the critters.

As the mindfulness meditation practice gains popularity, more people are turning to mindful walking to help calm their restless mind. The great thing about it is that you can practice it without taking up any extra time from your busy schedule. So, give it a try and see how this simple, yet powerful, practice can help restore balance and calm in your life.

Best wishes on your life journey!

Adapted from Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding True Inner Peace.

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