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Many people write off meditation because they can’t imagine sitting for as long as the practice might take. Whether it causes you pain or you’re a restless fidgeter, prolonged periods of stillness can be challenging! That’s why walking meditation can be valuable.
As meditation teacher Justin Michael Williams explains, “The idea that in order to meditate you have to sit totally stiff and cross-legged and not move at all is BS…it actually creates rigidity in our practice, and that’s the opposite of what we want. We want to be flowing in the natural rhythm of our bodies, our minds, and our emotions.”
Of course, it’s all about finding the type of meditation practice that works for you—and that may be sitting in the traditional position!—but there are other options. Read on to learn more about the benefits of walking meditation and how to start using it today.
What is Walking Meditation?
As the term suggests, this meditation involves focusing your thoughts and practicing mindfulness while you walk.
What is Mindful Walking?
Meditation walking involves paying close attention to the sensations in your body and around you as you move thoughtfully through a space. According to Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, this meditation is also about your state of mind as you’re walking. “Each step you make must make you happy, peaceful, and serene,” he says. “And each step brings you back to the present moment which is the only moment in which you can be alive.”
What’s the Purpose of Walking while Meditating?
Wondering, “Why walking meditation?” There are a couple of benefits. For one, it can be a good entry point to meditation for beginners who have trouble sitting still. Even just five minutes of meditation walking can be a great way to kick off a meditation practice!
But even experienced practitioners can deepen their practice by trying meditative walking as a complement to seated meditation. “In the monastery, after we would sit for 25 minutes, a bell would ring, and we’d stand up and resume our meditation by walking slowly,” explains practitioner and teacher Dandan Liu.
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How to Practice Walking Meditation
Wondering exactly how to start? Here are some simple steps to get you started.
Step 1: Find a Place to Walk (Without a Destination)
While you can do this meditation anywhere—even on a busy city street—beginners may want to find somewhere peaceful and without obstacles to start experimenting with the practice. You use a quiet pathway in a park or forest, take a loop around your neighborhood, or even walk in a circle in your own backyard or living room!
It’s important to note that, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, this should not involve a particular destination in mind. “We do not set ourselves a goal or a particular destination, so we don’t have to hurry because there is nothing there for us to get,” he explains. “Therefore walking is not a means but an end by itself.”
Step 2: Walk With Intention
Instead of paying careful attention to the breath as you would in a traditional seated practice, meditation walking involves sending your focus to the specific feelings of each step. Take small, slow steps, really noticing how the heel, arch, then toe hits the floor. “Make steps as if you were printing your foot on the ground,” Thich Nhat Hanh suggests.
If this feels uncomfortable, just walk naturally but pay attention to what you feel with each step.
Step 3: Notice the Sensations Around You
You can also practice mindful meditation walking by actively noticing the sights, sounds, and smells around you while you walk. This can be particularly centering if you’re practicing in nature. As with any mindfulness meditation, notice any feelings or thoughts that come up as you walk, and then come back to focusing on the present moment.
A Meditation Talk
Want to learn more about the spiritual and mental benefits of meditative walking? Watch this Thich Nhat Hanh meditation talk to hear more about the Buddhist ideas behind the practice.
If you’re still not sure how to start, listen to a guided meditation while walking to help you out. Try the nature meditation audio below.
Many of the popular meditation apps, like Headspace and Calm, include guided practices for meditation walking as part of your subscription, or feel free to use any of their meditation audio options while you stroll.
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