If the word meditation brings to mind an image of someone sitting in a perfect upright posture, cross-legged on the floor with eyes closed, it’s not surprising. While this is definitely one popular way to meditate, the truth is there are numerous ways to engage in a meditative practice. One of my favorites is “walking meditation.”
What is Walking Meditation?
A walking meditation, or “mindful walking” may seem counterintuitive to some, but it is a great way to practice mindfulness while still actively moving. You simply walk with focused awareness and attention on your thoughts, body, and surroundings. Not only is this great for those who don’t like the idea of sitting still for extended periods, but it also combines the benefits of mindfulness with the benefits of movement and exercise. The Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, once said, that the practice of mindful walking is a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth.
Practicing Your Walking Meditation in Nature
For those of us who love nature, the outdoors is a perfect setting for practicing a walking mediation. It can also be a healing, regenerative experience. Whether it is feeling the sand in your toes as you walk along the ocean, or walking among the trees in a dense forest, immersing yourself in nature’s beauty provides an opportunity for renewed energy and a sense of spiritual and emotional balance.
If you’re a beginner, try implementing the following steps below. A good place to start may be by spending about 30 seconds on each step, however, there are no hard or fast rules. Begin with whatever pace works best for you. These steps are guidelines and only meant to give you a framework to start. The big thing to remember is that your goal is to focus attention on the present and when your mind starts to wander (as it most definitely will), it’s perfectly natural. Just take note of it and bring your awareness back to following the steps below.
Step One: Choose your location
Begin by selecting a place you’d like to walk. It may be helpful to start with somewhere familiar, or a place that brings you a sense of peace or contentment when you visit. Once you’ve found it, you’re ready to get started.
Step Two: Check in with the body
As you begin your walk, start bringing awareness to your body. One suggestion is to start from the bottom up. Without trying to judge or change anything, take note of how your feet are feeling, and how they’re feeling in your shoes. As you gradually work your way up the body, don’t forget to take note of your breathing- the pattern of the breath and how the air feels in the body as you breathe it in. Take note of any area of the body holding more tension than other areas. Is one side of the body feeling different than the other? Take a few seconds to become aware of your posture and the way you’re carrying yourself. What is your stride and pace like?
Step Three: Take note of what you’re seeing
Take a good look around. What are you seeing? Notice any trees, leaves, bushes, water, vines, rocks, or clouds. Observe the movement or stillness of things, or any other sights that come into your field of vision. Soak in the colors and intricate details. When your mind starts to wander, take note and gently bring your awareness back to what you’re observing.
Step Four: Take note of what you’re hearing
What sort of sounds float in and out of your awareness? Take note of any water, a breeze rustling through the trees, insects, the sound of your own footsteps against the ground. You’re not thinking about the sounds but just acknowledging them.
Step Five: Take note of what you’re smelling
Breathe in with focused attention on the aromas around you. Take note of any distinct aromas- the soil, flowers, or trees. How would you describe them, fruity or earthy? Certain smells can often trigger memories. If you find that your mind starts to go off somewhere else, take note of it and bring your awareness back to noticing the smells.
Step Six: Check back in with the body
Return back to the body. Notice any new physical sensations. Get more detailed this time. What has changed in the way your feet feel or how you’re breathing? Are you starting to perspire? Can you feel the sun or a breeze on your skin? Notice how you are moving. Is it fast or slow? Are your arms swinging high or low? Again, there’s no need to make changes or adjustments. You are simply taking notice.
Tips for Success
Try not to bring your phone along. If you must bring your phone, be sure to turn it off until the very end. While these days we can’t live without our phones, it may be too tempting to pull it out and take a snapshot of your journey. If your attention is on taking a pic, you can easily go down a mental rabbit trail of who should see it, where you should post it, and so on. You will lose your engagement on what is going on with your body at the moment, and its relation to the earth and your natural surroundings.
Modify your walk to fit your needs and the amount of time you are able dedicate to it. This will help to make it a consistent and enjoyable practice. It does not need to be a rigid process and sometimes you will only be able to dedicate a few minutes versus an hour. If you enjoy walking meditations and would like to make it a regular part of your meditative practice, remember that it can be done anywhere, not just in nature. If you can’t get out due to the weather, try something else. You can easily use the same or similar approach for a mindful walk in the city, an airport, a large convention hall, the mall, or even around the house.
Be kind to yourself and always remember it’s natural for your mind to try and wander. The fact that you’re taking time to notice and bring awareness to it is a big step in the right direction. After your walk, you might take some time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and observations. Writing them down is a great way to keep a journal of your progress.
Lastly, remember that there is more than one way to meditate. If you like movement and nature, walking meditations may be a great way to start, but there are certainly other options to consider. To learn more about walking meditations, or to get help creating a meditation practice that’s right for you, reach out and contact me.