Walking meditation is a form of meditation which has been performed by Buddhist practitioners for thousands of years. It is an alternative to sitting meditation, which allows you to practise mindfulness (the art of being in the present moment) in a more dynamic way. In doing so, walking meditation arguably allows you to bring this state into your every-day life more easily.
According to Zen master Adyashanti in the book “True Meditation”, many people are capable of attaining states of mindfulness while on the meditation mat. However, Adyashanti points out that these people often lose their meditative state when they get up and return to their normal lives. He explains that “True Meditation” is to meditate in all situations, whether you are driving in a car, going shopping, sitting, or, of course, walking.
This means that as an intermediate step between formal meditation and being in a state of mindfulness in every moment of your life, you can learn to do meditations which have a dynamic element in them. This will help you maintain mindfulness even in the midst of activity, which is normally something that causes people to become less mindful. Several sorts of meditation are suitable for this, including Tai Chi, Qi Gong, free movement meditation, and meditations through exercise such as walking meditation.
Studies on dynamic meditations have linked them to improvements in mood and overall psychological wellbeing.
Studies have also shown numerous benefits for both exercise and meditation, which include an increased neuron density in the brain (meditation), an improvement in immune system function (exercise) and reduced cravings for addictive substances (meditation and exercise).
How To Do Walking Meditation
Walking meditation can be practised by simply taking the principles of meditation into a walk around the park or some other place that is tranquil and conducive to a peaceful state of mind.
This means that as you walk, bring your attention to things that are close to you – things that are in the real world, not just your head. That is, stop thinking and start directly experiencing your senses.
Try bringing your attention to your breath, which serves to anchor your attention in the present moment. This is a good way to start any meditation. As your attention is on your breath, allow your breathing to come naturally and without impediment; do not try to change it or control it in any way. If, while you’re doing this, thoughts come up, gently dismiss them and return your attention to your breath.
You can begin to place your attention in your body after you have “anchored” your consciousness in your body with breath awareness. As this is a walking meditation, allow your attention to flow into your legs, the soles of your feet, and all parts of your body, with special focus on the rhythm of your body and the way it moves. As you place your attention in different parts of your body, you will be able to notice a sense of tingling or aliveness in those parts. With further application of attention, you will notice a sense of general wellbeing or pleasure.
Now allow your attention to go outwards. While you do this, keep some attention in your body and movements: the sensation will be almost as if you are looking with your whole body, not just your eyes. As you do this, experience every sensation of your walk in a meditative way, that is, without placing labels or making judgments. See what you see, hear what you hear, feel what you feel. When you send your attention outwards, it will feel almost like you are “radiating”, as if your attention were a beam of light. Think of the expression “a beaming smile” to get an idea.
Indeed, a smile is the most natural way to accompany this meditation. Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Thich Nhat Hanh recommends it strongly in his book on walking meditation, “The Long Road Turns To Joy”.
Walking meditation can be a powerful tool in your spiritual practise. Try doing it whenever you find yourself walking. Instead of focusing on getting from one place or another, focus on the act of walking itself. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “If you think peace and happiness are somewhere else and run after them, you will never arrive.”