Walking meditation is a form of meditation where you put your entire awareness on walking. In this article, we’ll explore the roots of walking meditation and how you can master this wonderful mindfulness technique.
‘Let’s take a walk.’
These are the words Steve Jobs used to say whenever he had to meet someone important in his office. He preferred taking long walks to sitting idle in a meeting room and people who knew Jobs well were always prepared for a discussion which involved long walks. He took long walks for contemplation, negotiation, and meetings.
Steve Jobs studied Zen extensively when he was in college and even had a Zen monk as the spiritual advisor at NeXT, the company he founded after being fired from Apple in 1986.
When he returned to Apple in 1997, it was this passion for Zen that helped him design minimalistic products that revolutionized the tech industry. Having immersed himself in Zen, Steve Jobs certainly knew the benefits of mindful walking.
But what exactly is mindful walking? Simply put, walking meditation is practicing meditation while walking. While this may not sound like a complicated thing to do, it’s not easy to master the art of being mindful with each and every step. Thich Nhat Hanh believed that walking meditation is a “profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth.”
Before we delve deeper into the technique of walking meditation, let’s explore its origins.
What is Walking Meditation?
Satipatthana Sutta, a widely studied discourse in Theraveda Buddhism, lays the foundation of mindfulness meditation practice. In this Sutta, Buddha identifies four domains to be mindful of: body (kaya), sensations/feelings (vedana), mind (chitta), and elements of Buddhist teachings (dhamma).
In Kaya Sutta, walking is one of the postures to be mindful of along with sitting, standing, and lying down. The Buddha offers four practices of mindful postures:
A monk knows, when he is walking;
‘I am walking’;
he knows, when he is standing;
‘I am standing’;
he knows, when he is sitting;
‘I am sitting’;
he knows, when he is lying down;
‘I am lying down’;
or just as his body is disposed
so he knows it.
In the practice of mindful walking, you place your entire awareness in the process of walking. Many of us walk to get from one place to the next. We feel pressured to move ahead, to arrive at the destination as soon as possible. But in the practice of walking meditation, we go for a stroll. We have no destination in mind. The purpose of walking meditation is walking meditation itself. We enjoy the process of walking, not arriving at our destination.
Walking meditation is also a more practical approach to mindfulness meditation for people who are not used to meditation while sitting.
How to Practice Walking Meditation
1) Find an unobstructed space where you can walk for about ten feet. This is the instruction given in Satipatthana Sutta itself.
It’s also recommended to walk bare feet as it brings more awareness to what happens in the body when you’re walking.
2) Bring your awareness down to your feet. Notice the sensations here. Shift your weight from your left leg to your right leg.
3) Lift your head and look straight ahead and hold your chest high. You can hold your hands loosely to the side or clasp them behind your back.
4) Now begin the process of walking. Extend the right leg forward and notice the weight redistribution. As the weight shifts forward, notice how the heel of your left leg begins to lift. Swing the left leg forward and repeat.
5) As is common with any meditation practice, the mind begins to wander. When we meditate, we focus on our breath and each time our mind wanders, we bring the focus back to the breath.
Similarly, when you’re practicing walking meditation, you can use verbal cues to bring your attention back to the body whenever the mind wanders. Simple verbal cues like ‘lifting, moving, placing’ can be highly useful.
6) At the end of the walking path, come to a complete stop and take a deep mindful breath. Now turnaround and walk to the other side following the same practice.
When you start this practice, you will notice that your walk may seem robotic. This will change as you practice mindful walking regularly. You can start with 5 minutes of walking meditation, and then slowly take it up a notch by 5 minutes. When you’re finally comfortable, you can practice walking meditation for 30-45 minutes.
You will also notice that you no longer need verbal cues to bring your mind back to the present moment. It will happen automatically. It’s a great moment when you’re mindful of each and every moment. This is the Buddha nature – the seed of enlightenment.
Benefits of Walking Meditation
The Buddha described five benefits from doing walking meditation:
- One is fit for long journeys
- One is fit for striving
- One has little disease
- That which is eaten, drunk, chewed, tasted, goes through proper digestion
- The composure attained by walking up & down is long-lasting.
Walking meditation offers just as many benefits as its seated counterpart. Here are some of the benefits of walking meditation:
1) Helps you connect with nature: Mindful walking is best practiced when you’re outdoors. This allows you to connect with the natural world. Spending time in nature can be therapeutic for the mind and body.
2) Helps you stay in the present moment: The purpose of mindfulness is to bring your focus to the present moment.
3) Alleviates stress and anxiety: People who find it difficult to meditate in seated position find walking meditation to be more relaxing.
4) Complements seated meditation: Walking meditation offers good support to your sitting meditation practice and helps you cultivate mindfulness.
5) Builds strength: Walking meditation gets your body and muscles moving.
6) Jumpstarts your metabolism: Walking can rev up your metabolism and can be especially useful after a meal.
7) Energizes you: Walking meditation can be energizing for the body and mind when you’re feeling sluggish or tired.
Below is an infographic on walking meditation which you may find useful. Click on the infographic to enlarge.
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Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Feb 4, 2016 and has been updated regularly since then for relevance and comprehensiveness.