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March 03, 2020 6 min read 1 Comment

Instructions and inspiration for the practice of mindful walking

 

Walking…we walk everyday, everywhere.  

 

Well actually…it’s often more like rushing from place to place. And as we walk, our minds are always busy thinking/ planning/ worrying/ ruminating/ fantasizing/ judging/ storytelling … focusing on everything but the actual act of walking.

 

Walking…such a simple thing. And in this simple act of putting one foot in front of the other to propel yourself from place to place, there is a beautiful opportunity to practice mindfulness. A powerful opportunity to train your mind to focus on something neutral (in this case on the act of walking and all the sensations involved), to turn it away from the usual busyness, and to firmly establish yourself in the present moment. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in “How to Walk”:

 

“To be mindful is to be truly present with your body and your mind, to bring harmony to your intentions and actions, and to be in harmony with those around you. We don’t need to make a separate time for this outside of our daily activities. We can practice mindfulness in every moment of the day as we walk from one place to another. When we walk through a door, we know that we are going through a door. Our minds are with our actions.” 

 

Walking meditation is a way to wake up to the little miracle that walking really is. It’s a little miracle to have the strength, balance and intelligence to move ourselves forward, upright on two feet. We are the only creatures on the planet capable of doing that. 

  

Walking can be a way to connect with the beautiful planet we live on. To see and feel it. To appreciate it. To marvel. And to reconnect with our own true nature. Another little miracle of walking.

 

I’ve learned walking meditation while on retreat and as part of my meditation teacher training. It can be an alternative to seated meditation, or a practice in and of itself. Like all forms of meditation, walking meditation is a simple thing to do, yet not so simple. The mind continually wanders into the past and the future. I had trouble connecting with walking meditation, until I really leaned into it and found various ways to entice my mind to stay focused on the practice instead of getting lost in its usual wandering. Now I find it to be quite a soothing and calming form of mindfulness meditation.

 

And I find that it’s an excellent practice I can easily take with me out into the world. It’s kind of like an invisible mindfulness practice you can do every time you go somewhere.

 

HOW TO DO WALKING MEDITATION

  • Find a clear and quiet space you can walk silently, about 15-20 steps.  It could be a large room, a corridor, or outdoors.  If you can’t find a long space, you could walk in a circle.
  • Start standing, with your arms wherever they feel comfortable (i.e. at your sides, gently clasped behind your back…).
  • Connect with the soles of your feet, notice pressure points on the floor, the weight of your heels.  Notice the change if you shift your weight from side to side.  Feel grounded, feel you are connected to the Earth.
  • Begin to walk slowly.  Put all the weight into one foot, move the other foot forward and place it carefully down.  Then transfer the weight to the front foot and move the back foot forward and in front.  Repeat this very slow pace, just walking.  
  • Become aware of the process of walking.  With each movement, become very focused on the tiny things that walking involves, notice all of the movements, the muscles, joints and bones that must engage, the shifting of weight from side to side to propel yourself forward. Pay close attention to the movements and sensations of your feet, ankles, knees, thighs, hips as you take each slow step.
  • When you come to a wall, pause, turn one foot to the side at a 90 degree angle, bring the other beside it, then turn again and bring both feet together so you are now facing the direction you have come from.  Pause.  Breath.  And continue walking, slowly, mindfully.
  • Keep focusing and noticing all the components of walking.  Are your arms moving?  Are your hands tensing up?  Are your shoulders relaxed?  Are you leaning forwards or do you feel centred?
  • Begin to notice your breath as you walk, pay attention to the inhale and the exhale.  Is it naturally synchronized with the movement of your feet? How many steps do you take for each inhale and each exhale?  Is the inhale longer than the exhale?  Is it the opposite or is it the same?  Is there a pause in between?  Just notice, without engaging or changing the breath.
  • Then explore engaging with you breath and synchronizing it with your steps.  Try equalizing the breath: one inhale and one exhale per step.  Then one inhale with a step, and and exhale with the next.  What pattern feels comfortable?  How does it feel to change that?  You may find it useful to count the breaths as you step.  Just explore, focus, notice.
  • Expand your exploration to your senses.  Without losing the rhythm and the focus on your walking, begin to expand your awareness to notice what you hear, then what you smell, what you see, anything you may feel on your skin.  These sensations help you to stay focused and grounded in the practice. 
  • If you mind wanders back to your thinking/planning/worrying of everyday, as it inevitably will, simply invite it gently back to focus on the practice, on the movement of your body, on the exploration of your breath, on the awareness of your senses.  I’ve found that it’s easier to stay focused on the practice when I can shift my awareness from one to the other, from the various movements involved with walking, to the breath and to my sensorial experience instead of only focusing on the movements of my feet and legs.
  • If you encounter strong emotions, just pause, be kind and gentle with yourself in that moment as self-compassion that will allow you to turn towards whatever comes up and to acknowledge it without judging it. Just stay with it a moment.  Meditation allows us to have the space and the ease to let those things pass through and away, enabling us to let them go.  Resume your walking when you are ready.

 

TAKING MINDFUL WALKING OUT INTO THE WORLD

“It’s possible to enjoy every step we make, not only during walking meditation, but at any time, whenever you need to move from one place to another, no matter how short the distance is. If you’re waking five steps, then walk those five steps mindfully, feeling your stability with every step. When you climb the stairs, climb each step with joy. With each step, you can generate your best energy and transfer it out into the world.” Thich Nhat Hanh

 

You can practice mindful walking anywhere, once you understand and have practiced the principles. If you are on a street, in a park, in an airport, in any public place, walk slowly but not so slowly that you draw attention to yourself.  Keep focusing your attention on the movements of the walking, on the sensations you experience, on the beauty that surrounds you. You may wish to stop from time to time, to connect with your breath, and notice. Nobody will know you are practicing mindful walking meditation.

 

A LITTLE BOOK FOR INSPIRATION 

How to Walk, by Thich Nhat Hanh

As easy to read book that offers inspiration and little stories about the powerful impact of mindful walking as well as tips for your practice. This book is part of his series called Mindfulness Essentials. Thich Nhat Hanh was a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist who was very influential in introducing Buddhism and mindfulness to the West. He founded well-known Plum Village in France. 

 

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1 Response

Kate Dauphinee
Kate Dauphinee

March 06, 2020

Love the tip about doing the stairs mindfully. This changes my day!

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