Many people slight walking meditation, and don’t consider it a true formal meditation practice. However, walking meditation is a very useful practice, and was recommended by the Buddha himself.
What is Walking Meditation?
This is the first question that we are asked frequently. Walking meditation is just like sitting meditation. We choose a practice and focus our attention. Rather than sitting still, we practice while moving.
We can practice walking meditation with any of our practices: concentration, mindfulness, vedana, metta, compassion, etc. Rather than using the breath as our anchor as we often do in sitting practices, we can choose to use our footsteps as the anchor. Or, we can use our breath as usual.
Why Practice Walking Meditation?
There are many reasons to practice walking meditation. In the Satipatthana Sutta (The teachings on the Establishments of Mindfulness), the Buddha instructed us to practice while walking1. In the Cankama Sutta, the Buddha listed five benefits one receives from practicing walking meditation:
“He can endure traveling by foot; he can endure exertion; he becomes free from disease; whatever he has eaten & drunk, chewed & savored, becomes well-digested; the concentration he wins while doing walking meditation lasts for a long time.”2
In my personal experience, walking meditation has had additional benefits. First, it helps me bring my practice into daily life more easily. While sitting meditation is absolutely essential, walking meditation can help bridge the gap between sitting practice and daily life. Formal practice while moving has cultivated a level of mindfulness while up and around that I didn’t have before practicing walking meditation.
Another benefit I have noticed is somewhat touched upon in the sutta above. Whether walking, hiking, running, or riding my bike, I return to the practice of walking meditation. Most often, I check in with my body with non-judgemental awareness to see what is present. This has lead to moments of insight, helped calm me, and I often find myself slowing down and becoming more mindful as a result of this practice.
Walking Meditation Instructions
Here are a few ways you can practice walking meditation. For each practice, you can set a timer for however long you’d like to walk for. I recommend trying 15-20 minutes and working up to 30-45 minutes.
WALKING CONCENTRATION MEDITATION
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.
WALKING MINDFULNESS MEDITATION
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.