It's a Great Time to Try Walking Meditation
Have you ever tried meditating? We’ve all read about the health benefits, both mental and physical, that come with the practice. It can be a restorative tool that helps us counter everything from stress to social isolation. But that sitting still part . . . it’s just hard for us.
It turns out there’s a KEENier way to meditate: walking meditation. Yeah, you read that right, you can actually walk and meditate at the same time.
Walking is healthy. Meditation is healthy.
We already know walking is awesome for everything from increasing muscle strength and improving circulation in the legs to strengthening bones and giving you better balance. That’s a lot of good stuff from an activity that doesn’t require special equipment or training. All you need is enough space to move, supportive shoes, and comfortable clothing.
And a steady meditation practice is known to increase pain tolerance, cut the risk of heart-related illness, reduce blood pressure, and improve sleep. Those are some pretty significant benefits. But even with all the upsides, people shy away from meditating. Some of us get aches and pains from sitting in a pose for too long. Others notice that as soon as we try to sit down and quiet our thoughts, our daily to-do list pops to the forefront of our mind, or we start replaying our less-than-stellar response to our teen’s bad decision the night before (…oops). Then we can become uncomfortable, fidgety, self-judgy, and, ultimately, walled-off from feeling all those promised benefits.
This is where walking meditation comes in — bringing mindfulness to the act of walking. When we combine walking and mindfulness, we naturally come to an active-meditative state and set ourselves up to receive all of the benefits of both activities. Buddhists have been doing it for literally ages. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls walking meditation “…a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth.” Walking mindfully means practicing moving without a goal or destination. Instead, we deliberately focus on a series of actions that we normally do automatically.
There’s really no right or wrong way to use walking as a meditative practice. (There’s only one rule and it’s “eyes open so you don’t bump into things.”) Take the instructions below as a guide but adapt it for yourself and what works for you.
Here’s how you can try it out
1. Set an intention. Something like: “This walk will bring peace to my day.”
2. Walk without audio distractions like music or a podcast.
3. As you begin walking, focus on the movement of your feet and the feeling of your soles on the ground. Notice each step, slowing down a little from your normal pace.
4. Stay connected to the feeling of your legs and feet, then expand your awareness to notice your surroundings (smells, sights).
5. Notice your breath. How many breaths are you taking in and out with each step? There’s no right answer; just notice.
6. Add a simple, comforting phrase. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I bring peace into my body.” Is there a phrase that you can think of that would be comforting to you?
Walking meditation has the surprising power to bring us back to the here and the now and strengthen our self-compassion (which helps us develop empathy for others). You can practice anywhere: in your house or apartment, in your neighborhood, in the parking lot from your car to the grocery store, or out on your favorite trail. Wherever you practice, we hope meditation in motion can be a calming and grounding addition to your everyday walks.