Paola Bassanese is an author and freelance writer. She is interested in healthy living, work/life balance, and the performing arts.
What Is Walking Meditation?
Walking meditation brings the act of meditating into movement so you can enjoy the benefits of meditation as well as the benefits of movement and body awareness at the same time.
If you are unfamiliar with meditation and you fear that you are unable to sit cross-legged trying to “empty your mind” of all thoughts, then be reassured that walking meditation can be a solution to this concern.
Let's start by dispelling the myth that you need to empty your mind: meditation is the observation of your thoughts, not the act of trying to control your thoughts. You watch thoughts come and go, like clouds in the sky. It's OK to have thoughts while meditating. The beauty of it is in the act of observing and becoming more aware.
A walking meditation can be very simple, and it can last just a few minutes if you don't have much time.
Origins of Walking Meditation
Walking meditation was developed by Buddhist monks but you don't need to embrace asceticism and cut yourself from the world to practise it! In Buddhism, walking meditation is called kinhin.
In a video about walking meditation Thich Nhat Hanh suggests “you walk and you do it as if you were the happiest person in the world and if you can do that you can succeed in walking meditation.” Walking is not a means but an end in itself, and he adds: “Each step brings you back to the present moment, which is the only moment in which you can be alive”.
“Print peace, serenity and happiness on the ground.” It's not about focusing on our anxieties—he compares that to polluting the Earth. Instead, focus on peaceful and happy steps which can purify both yourself and the Earth.
How Long Do You Need for a Walking Meditation?
Some sources quote that you should allocate at least 20 minutes of your time for a walking meditation, but you can achieve good results even in 5 minutes if you are fully focused on the task.
You could decide to have two or three short walks interspersed throughout the day so that you can recharge your batteries when you start feeling your energy levels drop, or maybe you notice that you are starting to concentrate less at work.
The most important thing is to allocate some time in your diary or planner; you can also set reminders on your phone or your online calendar.
What Are the Benefits of Walking Meditation?
First of all, the key benefit of walking meditation is to spend some time outdoors, breathing in the fresh air and moving your body instead of sitting at your desk.
Because it can be done anywhere, a walking meditation can help to de-stress after a tense work meeting: for example, as you walk to the water dispenser or to the printer, slow down your walking pace and take time to breathe deeply.
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Walking meditation is meditation in action, as it allows to integrate meditation into everyday activities like doing grocery shopping. If you have ever used the self-checkout at the supermarket, you know how irritating those machines can be (you have probably witnessed several cases of “self-checkout rage”!). However, if you meditated while browsing the supermarket aisles, you will find yourself much calmer when, inevitably, things go wrong at the self-checkout. This is just a mundane example, but think about all those minor and major irritations you have to face on a daily basis: Feeling calmer can help in many situations and allows you to stop becoming stressed or frustrated.
Walking meditation is also the equivalent of rebooting your computer: when your computer has too many applications open it will crash, and in a way, our brains will crash if we are exposed to too many thoughts and stimuli. Taking some time out is great to reboot our inner operating system and improve our mental performance.
Forget the Destination
Our lives are so target-driven that not having a specific destination to reach is a luxury. A walking meditation does not require arriving at a specific point or location, because it's all about the process. It's a great lesson in detachment.
You can focus on an issue that you need to solve before setting off walking, however, you also need to let go of the problem or issue to allow your creative mind to come up with its own solutions.
“Are we nearly there yet?” plead children on long road trips: in a way, our rational minds behave in the same way. We want to see the payoff of our actions (and, ideally, we want it now!).
Walking Meditation Examples
As mentioned earlier, you don't need to become a Buddhist monk to enjoy the benefits of meditation: It is an activity that you can do anywhere, regardless of your cultural background.
You can take short walks, during which you repeat a mantra internally (for example, I breathe in calmness, I breathe out stress at each step), or walks in slow motion where you focus on breaking down each and every movement that your feet take.
You can synchronise your breath with each step. Ideally, make your breathing deep, from your abdomen, and take two to three steps for each breath in and each breath out.
You can also think of a word like "peace" or "thanks" that you can repeat internally with each step.
Another example is to scan your body as you walk, notice each muscle in your feet, then move up the legs, your hips, your back, your shoulders, your arms, your neck and finally your head.
If you don't feel self-conscious, you could try barefoot meditation: It can be a nice break in the middle of the day to recharge your batteries.
Take off your socks and shoes and feel the grass beneath your feet: is it dewy? Is it cold? Take notes on how the ground feels under your feet, feeling supported by the ground beneath you. Do you feel stronger? Liberated?
The trick is to do something that makes you feel comfortable so if going barefoot isn't your thing, then you can find other alternatives. However, it is still worth a try: it is difficult to explain the experience as it is very personal so it will vary from one individual to the next. You may feel refreshed, energised or calmer, or you may feel uplifted and more centered.
The coolness of the grass early in the morning, when it is bejewelled with tiny droplets of water, brings a sense of renewal.
How about arming yourself with a piece of chalk and designing a temporary walking labyrinth? It shouldn't take more than 20 minutes (depending on the complexity of the drawing). In this example of a walking labyrinth, you only need some chalk and some patience.
If you have space in your garden, time and resources you could use stones or even plants to mark the outline of the labyrinth.
You Can Start Now
Why not start right now? Just take a few steps, slowly, and focus on your breathing. Notice how you feel before and after. I'd love to hear about your walking meditation experiences in the comments.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Liliane on June 12, 2020:
I love walking a labyrinth especially in a group one after the other when I really have to stay aware so you don’t fall back on the person behind you.
Paola Bassanese (author) from Ireland on September 12, 2015:
OGOCHUKWU from NIGERIA on September 12, 2015:
Keep it up
Paola Bassanese (author) from Ireland on September 08, 2015:
Hi Eldon, thank you so much, I appreciate it!
Eldon Arsenaux from Cooley, Texas on September 08, 2015:
I enjoyed your thoughts on walking meditation.