I was doing a live (virtual) Q&A after giving a talk on the power of mindfulness for East West Connection in mid-August, when a woman asked, “What is the best kind of meditation for a beginner?” I promptly replied, “Walking meditation.”
It’s a misconception that the only way to meditate is to sit quietly in a corner with your eyes closed and chant “Om.” That’s one way to meditate. If you are new to meditation, or are the restless type, or sit all day at work, you might feel challenged by a seated meditation practice. Walking meditation might be better for you, as it also helps with circulation. Also known as mindful walking, it is a perfect complement to seated meditation.
Defining Walking Meditation?
Walking meditation is an active practice that requires you to be consciously aware and moving in the environment. It allows you to be aware of the pleasure of walking. It is much less overwhelming for beginners as walking is part of our daily lives. You use your walking as the main focus. This motion helps you become more aware of your body.
“I walk for miles at a time and do a lot of mindful reflection (seeing symbolism in the things around me, reflecting on the meanings)—it’s a lot of how I come up with the elephant stories about NYC. I feel that even in the city there are a lot of great opportunities for walking meditation,” says Rachana Bhide, organizational psychologist and broadcaster.
Walking meditation is a way to practice moving without a goal or intention. It means walking with awareness of each step, thought, emotion, and breath. “You don’t need to be only in nature… the bustle and noise of a city actually can help you focus deeply inward, as you connect your thoughts to the stimuli around you,” Bhide said.
Meditation in Motion
It’s true that walking meditation can be practiced anywhere, whether on a trail or in the parking lot of a supermarket. Think of walking meditation as meditation in motion.
“Walking meditation is my time. It is my space to focus on my breath, listen to my body, calm my mind. So much of my day is spent running around, taking care of others, working, etc. I cherish this time where life slows down, even for a little bit. Taking the time to slow down, breathe, and listen to the world around me helps me put my life in perspective and keep me focused on what really matters,” says Rachel Webb, general manager at Primary, Penn station.
This combination of meditating and walking can have both emotional and physical benefits. Walking meditation lowers stress, reduces anxiety, improves sleep, makes exercise more enjoyable, increases focus & concentration, slows you down, helps you get to know your body, great for mental health, helps you connect with nature, lowers blood pressure, expands everyday mindfulness, helps you stay in the present moment, and many other health perks.
You can practice walking meditation alone, with another person, or with a group. Place your feet one after the other, slowly and in silence. You can create joy with each step as there is no rush, no place to get to, no hurry.
“Walking is essentially what I do on my rest days to give my body a break from intense exercises,” says Esha Sharan, a student at the University of Washington-Seattle. “I do it to keep my muscles engaged in a ‘light’ manner but I think the greater thing here is walking outdoors is also my time for self-reflection — my actions, my breathing, my thoughts. It’s the time I’m made completely conscious of everything I’m doing and every thought that crosses my mind. To be honest, this is why I like giving my body that break from intensity – just to kind of unfold, not just physically but also mentally.”
So walking meditation is an active practice that requires you to be consciously aware and moving in the environment rather than sitting down with your eyes closed. This may be an easier way to quieten the mind compared to sitting in one place meditating. When your mind wanders, you can bring it back to the sensations of your feet touching the ground. Just like with any kind of meditation, it’s always easy to get distracted.
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh