When you next go for a walk, why not meditate as you go? One of the biggest obstacles to meditating for many people is time. Finding some dedicated time in your day for formal meditation practice can be challenging. If you are struggling with this you could try a walking meditation. Ditch the phone, music, podcasts or whatever you use to keep you company while you walk and try mindfulness instead.
What is Walking Meditation?
Walking meditation is a mindfulness practice that you do while walking. It is usually done at a slower pace than your regular walking for exercise. Unlike most meditation practices, it is done on the move with your eyes open, your body moving, and an awareness of your surrounding environment.
Walking meditation works best outside in a natural environment rather than inside on a treadmill. But don’t let that deter you from starting the practice. If inside is all you have then that will also work.
It is ideal for those that find it difficult to sit still and focus for too long. If you are struggling with your sitting meditation practice then walking meditation may be an easier practice for you to begin with.
How to Meditate While Walking
When you start out, be mindful of your body and your surroundings.
Walk slowly, without rushing, and allow yourself to become aware of your breathing.
Focus on your “in” breath and on your “out” breath. Do not alter or attempt to control your breathing, simply observe it.
As you walk say to yourself “in” for each step that you take on your in breath, and “out” for each step that you take on your out breath. A typical pattern is “in”, “in”, “in”, “out”, “out”, “out”, but this varies from person to person and will depend on your pace and level of exertion. You may find that you take four steps to each breath instead. So long as you are comfortable and relaxed, it’s all good.
The point is to simply be aware of your breathing, and the counting will help you to keep your focus on your breath. Or you may like to say “peace”, “peace”, “peace”, “joy”, “joy”, “joy”, or other words that you find uplifting.
While focusing on your breath you can also be aware of your surroundings. Notice what is going on around you and within you.
Benefits of Walking Meditation
As with all meditation, the principal benefit is to bring one’s awareness back to the present moment, rather than being absorbed in the events of the past or speculating about the future. This full awareness of the present moment, free from the distractions of the ego, is said to be the key to a truly peaceful state of mind. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will be able to be mindfully present in your everyday life.
Walking meditation may help to relieve a disturbed sleeping pattern, and will help to encourage a calmer and more relaxed state of mind throughout the day. If practiced regularly you will begin to notice benefits like less stress and anxiety.
You will also get the benefits that come from regular exercise. You are moving your body and that is always a good thing for your health and mental well-being.
Walking and Sitting Meditation
Walking meditation provides a rhythm and structure which can help people who struggle to stay focused during sitting meditation. Practicing walking meditation in no way precludes the practice of sitting meditation; indeed the two methods are complementary. If walking meditation helps you to calm your mind, then you may subsequently find sitting meditation easier.
While a beautiful, peaceful, natural environment is the ideal place to practice walking meditation, it is quite possible to use it to achieve inner calm in noisy environments, such as an airport. It is often in such stressful settings that people have the greatest need for the peace that walking meditation may bring.
If you would like to explore the practice of walking meditation further you should read the excellent pocket-sized book by Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation. It is a great primer for getting started in this practice.