Deep mental relaxation is one of many health benefits associated with regular meditation practice. Other confirmed benefits include lower blood pressure, decreased heart rate, reduced stress levels, improvements in sleep, and stronger immune function. Despite the many positive health associations with meditation, many people find it difficult to maintain a formal sitting meditation ritual.
And that’s okay! Ironically, sometimes being told that meditation is good for us may actually add to stress if we find we have trouble remembering to do it, or if we find that we’re fidgety, distracted, and not seeing immediate benefits. Feeling like you “should” meditate and that there is only one way to “correctly” meditate defeats a lot of the point of what meditation is trying to accomplish!
Walking meditation is one alternative way that works well for some people. It provides the perfect opportunity to couple the health benefits of mindfulness meditation practice with the joys of actively spending time in nature. As explained by Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Walking meditation involves intentionally attending to the experience of walking itself.” It involves walking without a destination, allowing oneself to simply be in the present moment, with focused attention on the process of moving the body.
Most people find the most successful way to implement a walking meditation into daily life is to begin with a structured practice. This involves setting an intention to engage in walking meditation for a set period of time each day, even at an interval as short as 10 minutes. Choose a location in which you can walk slowly back and forth, without being observed. To start, narrow your focus to one aspect of walking, for example, the feet touching the ground. Notice the sensations that arise as your feet make contact. As your practice grows, you may choose to expand this focus to include the legs or the whole body and then incorporate the awareness of the breath with the movement. The pace of your walk is likely to vary and change. It is often helpful to maintain a slower-than-average pace at the onset to maximize the ability to pay attention. If you find your mind drifting, gently bring your attention back to your walking.
A benefit of walking meditation practice is that it can be easily adapted to changing environments and busy schedules. When the weather does not permit outdoor walking, the practice can be taken indoors. Walking meditations can be utilized as brief respites as we go about our daily activities, including mindful walks from building to automobile, while shopping, or walking from one room to the next. The opportunity to quiet the mind, creating a clearer space to connect with ourselves and our environments is a gift of self-care that we can implement with every step we take.
- Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living. New York: Dell Publishing, 1990.
- Ko-I Bastis, Madeline. Peaceful Dwelling: Meditations for Healing and Living. Boston: Turtle Publishing, 2000.
- Hanh, Thich Nhat. The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation. Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1996.