Walking meditation is often slighted as a less important form of practice. However, walking meditation is an important and beneficial practice. The Buddha himself recommended practicing walking meditation in his discourse on establishing mindfulness.
There are many ways we can practice while walking, and different types of Buddhism have different practices. Whether you want to dedicate time to walking meditation, practice while getting some exercise, or meditate while walking at work, learning how to meditate while on the move can be quite powerful.
What is Walking Meditation?
I posted a walking meditation on the popular app Insight Timer a few years ago, and it got torn to pieces. People were of the opinion that walking meditation is not “real” meditation. At our meditation center, we often lead walking practices during daylongs. The practice is often met with the same attitude.
When we think of meditation practice, we probably think of somebody sitting still on a chair or cushion. We sit to cultivate mindfulness, awareness, compassion, or concentration. With walking meditation, we are simply doing the same thing while practicing in a different posture of the body.
We don’t need to sit in order to meditate. In fact, we can meditate while lying down, while standing, and of course while walking. There are many ways to meditate while moving. In the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha suggests:
”..,when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, & remaining silent, he makes himself fully alert.”
When practicing walking meditation, we are simply cultivating wholesome qualities while moving. Because the body is moving instead of sitting, we may haves a different experience. There is more energy moving, more changes happening, and different experiences in the body. However, the principle is the same.
Walking Meditation Benefits
I personally practice walking meditation regularly, and have noticed several benefits. First, walking practice gives me the opportunity to investigate the body in a new way. Instead of sitting still, we can look at the body while the muscles are working and blood is pumping.
Second, walking meditation helps us practice in daily life. It can be a bridge for our mindfulness practice, helping us to remain in the present moment as we move throughout our days. Whenever we are walking during our days, we have the opportunity to practice.
Finally, walking meditation offers a change in practice. When I am experiencing a lot of sleepiness or restlessness, I can get up and practice while walking. It’s a great tool to have to use when sitting doesn’t feel right.
The Buddha also offered a few benefits of walking meditation in the Cankama Sutta:
- One is fit for long journeys.
- One is for for striving.
- One has little disease
- That which is eaten, drunk, chewed, tasted, goes through proper digestion.
- The composure attained by walking is long-lasting.
Although walking meditation doesn’t have a monopoly on exercise, it also offers a fantastic way to move the body. The benefits of walking are well documented, and practicing while walking can help us get two things done at once. It’s a true mindfulness exercise!
Walking Meditation Instructions
We can do almost any meditation practice while walking that we might do while sitting. If there is a meditation technique we like, we can try investigating it while moving. Here are a few practices which lend themselves well to moving meditation.
Walking Concentration Practice
Begin by finding a space where you can walk 20-30 feet back and forth. I often do walking meditation in my home, but enjoy doing it outside when I can. You may choose to walk with shoes on or barefoot. Find what works for you!
Begin by standing still and taking a few deep breaths to center yourself. Take a step forward slowly. As you put your foot down, count one. Raise the next foot and bring it forward. As you put it down, count two. Count up to eight, and then go back down to one. Don’t make the numbers the main focal point. Instead, focus on setting the foot down with each step.
When you get to the end of your designated walking space, turn around slowly. You can count the steps involved in turning around. Try to stick with the counting. Notice when you’re on autopilot, counting numbers in the background while thinking in the foreground. You may notice that you go over 8 on accident, or you lose count altogether. When this happens, stop and begin counting again.
There’s nothing wrong with having to return to the number one over and over. The mind wanders. Every time you bring the mind back, you are building your ability to concentrate. Generally speaking, the more slowly you walk, the more concentration is employed.
Just as with the above instructions, find a space to walk in and take a few deep breaths. Instead of counting and focusing on just setting the foot down, you can practice mindfulness of the body.
You can notice three movements with each step: raise, forward, and step. Notice how the foot feels as it raises off the ground, how the foot and leg feel as they’re moving forward, and how it feels to put the foot down. In this practice, just keep returning to the sensations related to the walking.
When you turn around, notice how the hips, torso, and legs feel as you turn around. Remember that it is okay to walk as slowly or quickly as you’d like.
Walking Metta Meditation
As before, find a good space to walk back and forth. To do a walking metta meditation, you can say a phrase with each step. You may use the traditional phrases if you’d like: May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I be at ease. Saying one phrase with each step, you can repeat this for a few minutes, starting with metta for yourself. Then you can practice with a friend, a neutral person, a difficult person, and all beings everywhere.
When the mind wanders, just come back to the phrases. Practice setting the intention to open the heart with kindness with each step.
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