One of the most useful and grounding ways of attending to our body is the practice of walking meditation which is a form of meditation in action. Walking meditation is a simple and universal practice for developing calm, connectedness, and embodied awareness. It can be practiced regularly, before or after sitting meditation or any time on its own, such as after a busy day at work or on a lazy Sunday morning. The art of walking meditation is to learn to be aware as you walk, to use the natural movement of walking to cultivate mindfulness and wakeful presence.
Where Does it Come From? In Buddhism, kinhin is the walking meditation that is practiced between long periods of the sitting meditation known as zazen. The practice is common in Chan Buddhism and its extra-Chinese forms, Zen, Korean Seon and Vietnamese Thiền.
A little question: Why we should try this?
When we do walking meditation, we are using the physical, mental, and emotional experiences of walking as the basis of developing greater awareness.
Walking meditation is an excellent way of developing our ability to take awareness into our ordinary lives.
Much of our time is spent rushing from place to place, so preoccupied with our next activity that we don’t really notice what we’re doing now. We risk not really experiencing our life as we live it.
Walking meditation can help.
With practice, an everyday action that you do automatically, even mindlessly, can become an opportunity for greater focus and awareness—a habit you can try to bring to other mundane activities as well. Some experts recommend alternating the walking meditation with other forms of meditation to keep your practice varied and determine which form feels best for you.
Now here another question: Is there any evidence that it works?
A meta-analysis of 20 published studies concluded that the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR), an eight-week training program that includes the walking meditation described above, is effective in improving physical symptoms and psychological well-being among individuals experiencing physical and mental illness (e.g., cancer, heart disease, depression) and among healthy but stressed individuals.
So how to do it?
I believe that the best way to learn this practice is to be led through it.
The steps below are adapted from a guided walking meditation led by mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn
Find a location. Find a lane that allows you to walk back and forth for 10-15 paces—a place that is relatively peaceful, where you won’t be disturbed or even observed (since a slow, formal walking meditation can look strange to people who are unfamiliar with it). You can practice walking meditation either indoors or outside in nature. The lane doesn’t have to be very long since the goal is not to reach a specific destination, just to practice a very intentional form of walking where you’re mostly retracing your steps.
Start your steps. Walk 10-15 steps along the lane you’ve chosen, and then pause and breathe for as long as you like. When you’re ready, turn and walk back in the opposite direction to the other end of the lane, where you can pause and breathe again. Then, when you’re ready, turn once more and continue with the walk.
The components of each step. Walking meditation involves very deliberating thinking about and doing a series of actions that you normally do automatically. Breaking these steps down in your mind may feel awkward, even ridiculous. But you should try to notice at least these four basic components of each step:
a) the lifting of one foot;
b) the moving of the foot a bit forward of where you’re standing;
c) the placing of the foot on the floor, heal first;
d) the shifting of the weight of the body onto the forward leg as the back heel lifts, while the toes of that foot remain touching the floor or the ground.
Then the cycle continues, as you:
a) lift your back foot totally off the ground;
b) observe the back foot as it swings forward and lowers;
c) observe the back foot as it makes contact with the ground, heel first;
d) feel the weight shift onto that foot as the body moves forward.
Speed. You can walk at any speed, but in Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, walking meditation is slow and involves taking small steps. Most important is that it feel natural, not exaggerated or stylized.
Hands and arms. You can clasp your hands behind your back or in front of you, or you can just let them hang at your side—whatever feels most comfortable and natural.
Focusing your attention. As you walk, try to focus your attention on one or more sensations that you would normally take for granted, such as your breath coming in and out of your body; the movement of your feet and legs, or their contact with the ground or floor; your head balanced on your neck and shoulders; sounds nearby or those caused by the movement of your body; or whatever your eyes take in as they focus on the world in front of you.
What to do when your mind wanders. No matter how much you try to fix your attention on any of these sensations, your mind will inevitably wander. That’s OK—it’s perfectly natural. When you notice your mind wandering, simply try again to focus it one of those sensations.
Integrating walking meditation into your daily life. For many people, slow, formal walking meditation is an acquired taste. But the more you practice, even for short periods of time, the more it is likely to grow on you. Keep in mind that you can also bring mindfulness to walking at any speed in your everyday life, and even to running, though of course the pace of your steps and breath will change. In fact, over time, you can try to bring the same degree of awareness to any everyday activity, experiencing the sense of presence that is available to us at every moment as our lives unfold.
If you made it this far, I want to thank you for reading my words. You clearly have an interest in meditation and I honestly believe it is one of most beautiful gifts we can give ourselves and others. Here some tools to help you on this journey: