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Simple walking meditation technique with undeniable benefits
When talking about meditation, we often think of sitting still on a meditation cushion with legs crossed. Though not wrong, meditation is much more than that.
That was only one of the many meditation postures we often come across, the sitting posture.
And, for those who think they’re not physically flexible enough to sit motionless in that iconic lotus position for a long duration, it can be discouraging.
But, fear not!
Sitting might be a popular meditation posture but not the only one.
We can practice meditation in many other postures.
The next popular meditation posture is probably walking.
Yes, you read that right. You can meditate while you’re walking.
But, it’s not the usual, casual, everyday walking. It’s meditation practiced in a “walking” posture. We call it walking meditation. Many have been practicing it for centuries. A good example is Buddhists from the Theravada and Zen tradition.
A well-known Vietnamese monk and meditation master Thích Nhất Hạnh is a big advocate of walking meditation.
So, there must be some good reasons.
Now, I bet you have a lot of questions.
What is walking meditation?
Why should we practice it?
What are the benefits?
And, more importantly, how to do it? Is there a simple yet effective walking meditation technique?
I’d try to answer those questions as best as I can in the context of mindfulness meditation, in which I have a bit of understanding and experience.
Let’s get started.
What is walking meditation?
Walking meditation is meditation in motion. It is meditation done in a “walking” posture.
So, the usual, casual, everyday walking doesn’t necessarily count as meditation. In most cases, it doesn’t.
Meditation is a conscious effort to cultivate the mind in a certain way. It’s a mental exercise, not a physical one. It builds awareness of the present by being mindful of the mind and body in balance with focus.
To do so, we need a meditation object.
A meditation object is what to be aware of or to where we pay attention.
In this case, the meditation object is the walking activity itself. Meaning, we focus on, or we pay attention to the walking. Or, we can simply be aware of the present during the walking.
How do we pay attention to the act of walking?
If you think about it, walking includes lots of details:
• the movements of your body
• before that, the intention to move
• your muscles contracting and expanding
• the sounds you hear
• the sensation of your feet touching the ground
• the smell of the air you breathe
• the feeling of the air touching your skin
• the motion when you lift your feet
• the shifting of your weight when you step forward
Those are only the obvious ones. If you want to dig deeper, there are many more. A lot of things can happen during walking. For example, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories, emotions might arise.
Paying attention to all of them at once can be overwhelming especially, for beginners. So, in that case, pick some of them. Choose the easier ones and discard the rest for the moment.
As you progress and your awareness grows, you can add more of those details, thus expanding the object of your walking meditation practice.
So, you don’t need to worry about finding meditation objects when you’re practicing walking meditation. You have plenty at your disposal.
Why should we do walking meditation and, what are the benefits?
As a meditation posture, walking does have several unique advantages.
The movement helps facilitate the development of focus and mindfulness in a balanced manner.
You can focus on any details of the movement of your body. You can also focus on any sensations that arise to develop concentration.
At the same time, you can also be aware of the present, of the whole process of walking, of anything that arises in the six sense doors (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind) continuously during the walking to cultivate mindfulness.
Walking meditation gives the practitioners a natural object. The movement of your body, the sensations of your feet touching the ground, the visions, the sounds, the heat, the cold, the smell, the air, all are natural. You don’t need to conceptualize or visualize them.
The movement also makes the practitioners less prone to drowsiness that often becomes a hindrance in the sitting and lying-down posture.
Do you want to learn the smart way to improve your meditation practice? Check these most effective meditation hacks to eliminate all hindrances during meditation.
Walking meditation complements sitting meditation very well. Alternating between the two helps build mindfulness and, at the same time, can also benefit physical fitness.
My tip is, remember to maintain mindfulness when changing posture from walking to sitting and vice-versa.
For those who practice maintaining mindfulness continuously, walking meditation is perfect after meals. It is favorable to the stomach.
Even better, walking meditation also brings many physical and mental health benefits.
First, walking meditation helps regulate blood circulation. It lowers the chances of heart disease.
This 2016 study concluded that Buddhist walking meditation exercise produced a multitude of favorable effects, often superior to traditional walking programs, in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Walking meditation enhances the balance and ankle reposition sense among the elderly.
Because of the physical and mental benefits, many meditation practitioners even go on to say that walking meditation is the best meditation.
I wouldn’t argue with that, but, honestly, all meditation postures are best in their own right.
Why? Because “best” is a relative term. Best for what? Best for whom? Best for what situation?
In that sense, I’d say yes, walking meditation is best, but so do sitting, standing, lying down, and other meditation postures.
Even if you are very fond of practicing in the sitting posture, walking meditation can complement your practice very nicely.
How can we practice walking meditation to build mindfulness in balance with focus?
First, pick a place where you can walk for at least 10 to 15 paces in a straight path back and forth at a time when it’s not too crowded.
Alternatively, if you want to minimize changing directions, you might want to find a reasonably-sized circular path.
At the beginning stage, you need to minimize distractions. You’d want to avoid bumping into other people. Also, those who don’t have any ideas about walking meditation might think you’re doing some “weird things.”
So, you need a place where you don’t need to pay too much attention to your surroundings. It can be indoor or outdoor, public places (at the right time), or your own backyard.
Now, the technique.
There are many techniques for practicing walking meditation out there. Although they have some similarities, they also have differences.
Techniques might differ in priorities, thus emphasizing different aspects. Some details might be more important to one than to the other.
To build mindfulness in balance with focus, let’s not overcomplicate things. Instead, let’s make it simple, easy to understand, and actionable.
How do we do it?
Just walk naturally, and be aware. That’s it.
Ok, I can feel your reaction 😁. So, let me elaborate.
Walk naturally, mindfully. Be aware of walking continuously.
Feel the movements of your body. Ask yourself, “what is happening right now?” That question helps trigger awareness. That’s the purpose.
Acknowledge the intention to move your foot. Is it the right one first, or the left one?
Feel the sensation of the sole of your feet touching the ground. Acknowledge it.
Feel the weight of your body shifting as you walk, the contraction and expansion of your muscles.
Is there any smell in the air?
Feel the sensation of the airflow touching your skin. Is it warm, hot, cool, or cold?
When you reach the end of your path and need to turn back, acknowledge the intention.
Do any of those sensations that arise trigger any feelings, thoughts, memories, perceptions, or any emotions? Do they distract you?
Does anger or hatred arise?
How about fear and worry, or other negative emotions?
Acknowledge them and let them go. Then, pay your attention back to the walking, no need to overthink or overanalyze.
A lot of things are happening in the six sense doors (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind) during walking.
Do you need to notice them all?
No, you just need to start with the obvious and easier ones, and then add more as you progress in your practice.
As you grow in awareness, you can expand the object of your mindful walking meditation by adding more details to it.
Now, this is important. Remember to start small, don’t burden yourself with targets and goals during practice. Learning from experience, mine and others, they’ll only hinder your progress.
Do you need to break the walking motion into
• three parts: lifting, pushing, dropping,
• or six parts: raising, lifting, pushing, dropping, touching, and pressing
and note each part mentally as some suggest?
If you find it easier that way, then do it, as long as you do it mindfully while maintaining awareness.
Some practitioners find that counting the steps helps their mind focused.
For example, for the first step, you count 1. In the next two steps, you count 1-2. In the next three steps, you count 1-2-3, and so on all the way to 10. When you reach 10, you note 10 and reverse the counting order. Note 10-9 in the next two steps, and 10-9-8 in the next three steps, and so on until back to 1.
Or, this is my preferred technique, you simply walk naturally, mindfully, and continuously be aware of the present.
If you find your mind wanders away, acknowledge it, and gently shift your attention back to your walking.
For more useful tips, check these proven and easy hacks to maintain mindfulness, stay focused, and avoid mind-wandering during meditation.
What about speed? How slow or how fast should you walk?
Just walk normally.
Whether you want to walk slowly or fast, be aware, and acknowledge the intention.
Whether you want to increase or decrease your speed, just be aware, and acknowledge the intention.
The important thing is the continuity of awareness, not the speed.
It’s actually kind of smart to practice walking meditation at normal and natural speed. It allows you to turn your everyday walking into a meditative walk.
Once you get the hang of it, you see every time you’re about to go for a walk as an opportunity to practice.
What about duration? How long should you walk?
10 to 15 minutes of practice per session, once or twice a day is pretty common. A 10-minute walk after every meal sounds like a good idea.
In meditation retreats, you can walk conveniently for 30 minutes to even 2 hours. But, in everyday life, practicing walking meditation for 1 to 2 hours per session might not be practical for most people.
One important thing I’ve learned is that in meditation practice, regularity is more important than duration. Compensating for irregular practice by practicing longer doesn’t work.
So, stop obsessing about duration. Instead, emphasize diligence.
When time is tight, even 5 minutes of walking brings positive impacts.
You might want to check my earlier article where I shared the many actual benefits of meditation based on personal experience.
So, for anything, try not to skip practice.
Walking meditation is meditation done in the “walking” posture using the act of walking as its object.
In walking meditation, we practice walking mindfully by maintaining awareness of the present during the walking.
Because of the dynamic nature of its object, walking meditation is meditation in motion.
Walking meditation makes a good complement to your sitting meditation. By alternating between the two, you’re balancing your meditation practice.
If you can maintain the continuity of awareness while you’re changing postures, the awareness developed can easily be carried through into your other daily activities.
That makes walking meditation an effective tool in your meditation arsenal.
Practicing mindful walking meditation regularly benefits both mental well-being and physical health in many aspects.
With all of those advantages, one can still get lost in thoughts or get drawn to emotions while walking if not mindful.
Therefore, we need to constantly remind ourselves to be mindful when we meditate, no matter the postures.
There are a lot more questions about walking meditation. The questions above are only some of the common ones that people often ask.
I don’t have all the answers but, I tried my best to answer them in the context of mindfulness meditation, in which I have a bit of knowledge and experience.
Now, what next?
The challenge is bringing meditation into our daily lives, taking advantage of our daily activities as meditation objects.
If you can do that, you’ll progress naturally. You’ll experience a transformation that words cannot quite explain. It’s the reason many people, including me, say that they can’t imagine a life without meditation.
Concerning meditation practice, there are some key points worth repeating.
The regularity and consistency of the practice are much more important than the duration. In other words, meditation is a marathon, not a sprint.
Sales and marketing person mentality like goals and targets is counter-productive in meditation practice. They add unnecessary pressure to the mind making it more difficult to maintain awareness.
Now, I’d admit that learning meditation from books, or by reading a blog, no matter how well-written, still, can be challenging.
So, if you feel stuck practicing on your own or experience no progress, consider taking a meditation course. You might want to check the one I highly recommend.
Not only you’ll have the option to try many different styles and techniques to find the one that suits you the best, but you’ll also be provided with easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions.
On top of that, you’ll have a supportive community with an accomplished teacher to back you up.
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