One of the most useful and grounding ways of attending to our body is the practice of walking meditation. Walking meditation is a simple and universal practice for developing calm, contentedness, and embodied awareness. It can be practiced regularly, before or after sitting meditation or any time on its own, such as after a busy day at work or on a lazy Sunday morning. The art of walking meditation is to learn to be aware as you walk, to use the natural movement of walking to cultivate mindfulness and wakeful presence.
To practice, select a quiet place where you can walk comfortably back and forth, indoors or out, about ten to thirty paces in length. Begin by standing at one end of this “walking path,” with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Let your hands rest easily, wherever they are comfortable. Open your senses to see and feel the whole surroundings. After a minute, bring your attention back to focus on the body. Center yourself, and feel how your body is standing on the earth. Feel the pressure on the bottoms of your feet and the other natural sensations of standing. Let yourself be present and alert.
Begin to walk a bit more slowly than usual. Let yourself walk with a sense of ease and dignity. Relax and let your walking be easy and natural, as if you were a king or queen out for a royal stroll. Pay attention to your body. With each step feel the sensations of lifting your foot and leg off of the earth. Then mindfully place your foot back down. Feel each step mindfully as you walk. When you reach the end of your path, pause for a moment. Center yourself, carefully turn around, pause again so that you can be aware of the first step as you walk back. You can experiment with the speed, walking at whatever pace keeps you most present.
Continue to walk back and forth for ten or twenty minutes or longer. As with the breath in sitting, your attention will wander away many times. As soon as you notice this, acknowledge where it went softly, “wandering,” “thinking,” “hearing,” “planning.” Then return to feel the next step. Like training a puppy, you will need to come back a thousand times. Whether you have been away for one second or for ten minutes, no matter. Simply acknowledge where you have been and then come back to being alive here and now with the next step you take.
Use the walking meditation to calm and collect yourself and to live more wakefully in your body. Practice at home first. You can then extend your mindful walking in an informal way when you go shopping, whenever you walk down the street or walk to or from your car. You can learn to enjoy walking for its own sake instead of the usual planning and thinking and, in this simple way, begin to be truly present, to bring your body, heart and mind together as your move through your life.
How to Do It
The steps below are adapted from a guided walking meditation led by mindfulness expert Jon Karat-Zinn. This and other guided meditations can be found in his audio book, Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.
- Find a location. Find a lane that allows you to walk back and forth for 10-15 paces—a place that is relatively peaceful, where you won’t be disturbed or even observed (since a slow, formal walking meditation can look strange to people who are unfamiliar with it). You can practice walking meditation either indoors or outside in nature. The lane doesn’t have to be very long since the goal is not to reach a specific destination, just to practice a very intentional form of walking where you’re mostly retracing your steps.
- Start your steps. Walk 10-15 steps along the lane you’ve chosen, and then pause and breathe for as long as you like. When you’re ready, turn and walk back in the opposite direction to the other end of the lane, where you can pause and breathe again. Then, when you’re ready, turn once more and continue with the walk.
- The components of each step. Walking meditation involves very deliberating thinking about and doing a series of actions that you normally do automatically. Breaking these steps down in your mind may feel awkward, even ridiculous. But you should try to notice at least these four basic components of each step: a) the lifting of one foot;
b) the moving of the foot a bit forward of where you’re standing;
c) the placing of the foot on the floor, heal first;
d) the shifting of the weight of the body onto the forward leg as the back heel lifts, while the toes of that foot remain touching the floor or the ground. Then the cycle continues, as you: a) lift your back foot totally off the ground;
b) observe the back foot as it swings forward and lowers;
c) observe the back foot as it makes contact with the ground, heel first;
d) feel the weight shift onto that foot as the body moves forward.
- Speed. You can walk at any speed, but in Karat-Zinnias Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, walking meditation is slow and involves taking small steps. Most important is that it feel natural, not exaggerated or stylized.
- Hands and arms. You can clasp your hands behind your back or in front of you, or you can just let them hang at your side—whatever feels most comfortable and natural.
- Focusing your attention. As you walk, try to focus your attention on one or more sensations that you would normally take for granted, such as your breath coming in and out of your body; the movement of your feet and legs, or their contact with the ground or floor; your head balanced on your neck and shoulders; sounds nearby or those caused by the movement of your body; or whatever your eyes take in as they focus on the world in front of you.
- What to do when your mind wanders. No matter how much you try to fix your attention on any of these sensations, your mind will inevitably wander. That’s OK—it’s perfectly natural. When you notice your mind wandering, simply try again to focus it one of those sensations.
- Integrating walking meditation into your daily life. For many people, slow, formal walking meditation is an acquired taste. But the more you practice, even for short periods of time, the more it is likely to grow on you. Keep in mind that you can also bring mindfulness to walking at any speed in your everyday life, and even to running, though of course the pace of your steps and breath will change. In fact, over time, you can try to bring the same degree of awareness to any everyday activity, experiencing the sense of presence that is available to us at every moment as our lives unfold.
Walking Meditation — The Ultimate Guide
Walking meditation is a wonderful complement to your seated meditation practice. For some people, it is actually an introduction for it, since it is easier to start with.
In this post I will explore the importance and the “how to” of walking meditation in the traditions of Buddhism, Yoga, and Dadaism (Taoism). Six different techniques will be covered. This post complements our mega-article on meditation techniques.
What Is Walking Meditation?
We don’t need a special set-up to meditate. We can practice mindfulness meditation while sitting at the desk, doing the dishes or taking a walk. Mindful walking meditation is a perfect complement to our seated meditation practice – it’s “meditation in motion.” And walking meditation is great for beginners since walking is a familiar part of our everyday experience.
Walking meditation is more than just strolling about. Remember that we are training in being as mindful as possible: this practice is all about being aware of our body and physical sensations as we move. Our eyes are open and our mind and body are rooted in the present. The incomparable Vietnamese meditation master and peace activist This Nhat Hanh offers a brief presentation of walking meditation in a short video where he says that as we walk, we should imagine that we “print peace, serenity and happiness on the ground.” To watch what walking meditation looks like, Venerable Yuttadhammo Bhikku, a Canadian monk and Buddhist teacher in the Thai tradition, gives an easy-to-follow explanation in 10 minutes here.