You don't have to live like a Zen monk or spend hours sitting silent and motionless on a cushion to benefit from meditation. In fact, if you're the type of person who's more comfortable moving or being outdoors, walking meditation might be your personal path to inner peace.
"Many people dislike traditional meditation - sitting still, trying to coax their mind to be blank," says dancer, meditation teacher and body therapist Camille Maurine, who is the co-author with her husband Lorin Roche, Ph.D., of Meditation Secrets for Women (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001). "Meditation should never be uncomfortable. To make it work, find ways that are natural to you," she advises. Walking meditatively is just one of the many ways her book suggests for being with yourself in a profound way.
To illustrate walking meditation at its best, Maurine tells the story of a woman who attended her meditation lecture. This woman criticized herself for being unable meditate the "right" way - sitting still and rigid. Yet, when she related her passion for walking, Maurine pointed out that walking itself could be meditative. "The woman described a day in the woods when she came upon a crane poised on a rock," Maurine says. "She stopped in her tracks and was drawn into a rapturous state watching the bird. And yet, before my talk, she'd never considered that her walks actually were meditations. When you open yourself to your environment, heighten your sensory awareness, and experience deep joy and presence in the moment - that's meditation."
Many cultures have forms of walking meditation in their traditions. Typically, walking is done slowly to allow for complete awareness of motion and breath. It's the process of walking that's important, not the speed or destination. "The more slowly you go, the more detailed your awareness," says Maurine. "It's also calming. The simplest movement such as how the weight shifts through your foot is intensified." However, if it suits your mood, you may also walk briskly. "Whatever you do, observe your body and become curious and delighted by your body in motion," she recommends.
Maurine believes walking meditation is liberating, and when it's done outdoors, it connects you with nature. "As you walk, you have the freedom to turn your attention outward as well as inward," she explains. "Outward attention is when you concentrate on being part of the whole environment. You see colors and notice the movement of branches and leaves in the wind. You smell the fragrances of the earth; you feel the air on your skin."
To turn your attention inward, gaze down, just slightly ahead of your feet. Feel your breath, become conscious of your body's movement, and listen to your thoughts and emotions. Because of the nature of meditative walking, sadness, fear, anger and anxiety can flow through you and move out as you walk and breathe.
The Path of Walking
Walking meditation, Maurine points out, benefits you in a number of ways:
- Teaches you to stay centered and aware in the midst of other activities so that you're less influenced by chaos around you in other situations.
- Increases your sensory awareness, including the profound delights of the sights and sounds of the great outdoors.
- Gets you out into fresh air and sunlight.
- Helps you develop a deep meditative awareness of motion, something we often take for granted.
- Focuses your attention on rhythm, including your breath and your gait. By walking meditatively, you become aware of how your hips move, how your feet touch the ground, and how your torso and arms sway.
- Integrates exercise and your emotional state. The purpose of a walking meditation is to simply be, not to reach a destination or increase your cardiovascular capacity - although it may have that benefit. Play with the tempo of what feels good. If you feel energized, walk quickly. If you feel quiet and inward, walk slowly.
- Increases your sense of joy in knowing that walking is good for your body and spirit.
10 Steps to Walking Meditation
Before you begin a walking meditation, choose comfortable clothing and supportive shoes. If you're on a beach, go barefoot so your feet make direct contact with the Earth's electromagnetic energy. You should also choose a place you find nourishing, whether it's a park, a forest or your neighborhood block. Allow yourself at least 15 or 20 minutes to walk. However, Maurine notes, even 5 or 10 minutes can renew your spirit and energy. Then try her suggestions for your walking meditation:
1. Pause for a minute before you start, and feel yourself in the present. Use your senses to scan the world around you. Say hello to the sky; feel the ground beneath you. Notice your breath, then take several slow, deep ones to increase your awareness.
2. As you begin, start with the quality and tempo of walk that's comfortable. The pace should allow you to stay aware of surroundings and your body.
3. Feel your feet connect with the ground. Isolate the sensation in your heels, toes, ankles. Feel the motion throughout your body, not just the legs. How do your hips move? How do your arms swing? You don't have to change anything, just notice it.
4. Breathe in through the nose and out through either your nose or mouth. Pay attention to the rhythm and flow of your breath.
5. Take the time to truly appreciate the ability of your body to propel you forward.
6. Play with the tempo as you go, choosing a pace that's nurturing. Slow down and speed up as you like.
7. Shift your attention from inward to outward, alternating between following the breath and focusing on the world around you. Devise a cycle that suits you, perhaps spending a minute on each, then switching.
8. Open up your senses. Feel the air move across your skin, enjoy the quality of light. See the colors of flowers and trees; notice the shapes of rocks and buildings. What sounds are you hearing? Observe the outer world as you would a painting, with heightened awareness.
9. Give yourself the freedom to pause. It's okay to stop and touch the bark of a tree or smell an herb or flower.
10. At the end of your walk, pause, experience yourself again within your environment and listen to how you're feeling. Give yourself a moment to consciously receive the benefits of your meditation and give thanks. Appreciate that you have the gift of breath and walking. You may want to make a ritual gesture such as placing your hands in the prayer position and saying "namaste" to close your walking meditation.
Feeling the Glow
Walking meditation will balance you and help you come to equilibrium, says Maurine. If you've been lethargic, it may help perk you up. If you've suffered from frazzled nerves, the meditation may calm you.
And finally, Maurine emphasizes that you should enjoy yourself. "Everybody will find her or his own delights in walking meditation," she says. "You may be surprised at the wonders you discover each day. Perhaps it's a butterfly landing on a leaf, maybe it's the pleasure of feeling stress melt away. Just noticing tiny things can radically enrich your quality of life and awaken a sense of yourself that you carry with you forever."