Sitting crossed legged on the floor and chanting ‘Ohm’ has never been a practice I could make a habit. Instead of focusing on my breath and staying calm, I couldn’t help focusing on the discomfort I felt while trying to sit up straight. But I love the feeling of alignment, clarity and freedom that often envelopes me after finishing a meditation.
That is why, when I began walking my dog Marcello in Congressional Cemetery 16 years ago every morning, I started practicing a walking meditation. I embraced and cherished our time together noticing our surroundings. One day I might listen to the sounds of birds, leaves rustling or pebbles crunching under my feet. Another walk I might think about my breathing, maybe counting the seconds in, holding and breathing out. Another day I might focus on feeling the elements of the outdoors on my body – how the ground under my feet feels, how the sun feels on my skin. Walking in the cemetery became my daily meditation.
Walking meditation is more than just a simple stroll around a park. It is usually done slower than normal walks and involves a specific focusing practice. Because the body is moving and not seated in meditation, it is easier for some to be aware of body sensations and remain focused in the present moment.
What is Walking Meditation?
Meditating when you are walking is about concentrating on where you are, not on where you are going. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” Or as Victor Davich states in his book The Best Guide to Meditation, “You are not trying to get to a particular place, but rather to be totally aware of the place where you are.”
Meditation is the ability to focus on one thing only, allowing thoughts and inner chatter to fall away and create a deep feeling of stillness and peace. It can be a gateway to connecting with your true self. Many philosophies such as Buddhism, Taoism and yoga use meditation as an integral part of their faith.
Benefits of a Walking Meditation
Walking meditation may be one of the most efficacious of exercises. Not only does walking help your body stay healthy, but it also contributes to a calm state of mind which helps your immune system function optimally. The walking part helps the health of your heart, improves circulation and contributes to overall health and wellness physically. The meditation combined with walking allows a person to reduce anxiety, develop a deeper connection to the environment, help with depression, and improve concentration.
I think the biggest benefit of walking meditation for me has been the awareness the practice has given me. I can discern what truly resonates with me, apart from what may resonate with another. It has made me able to better hear and listen to my inner voice, true self, inner guide, my gut or the God in me–whatever you call the little voice deep inside that is always there for you when needed.
The “How” of Walking Meditation
Where and how you choose to practice is your choice. There is no wrong or right way to do a walking meditation. It can be as individual as you are. It evolves as you do.
“For me, the best ways to do a meditative walk is alone and outside so I can be in touch with nature–smell the flowers, trees, grass and hear the birds and the wind and see the sky and the clouds,” said Karin Edgett, an artist and nutritional cook who has been meditating regularly for about 10 years. “My meditation style changes as I change” she said. “One of the things I enjoy about a walking meditation (she also enjoys horizontal meditations daily) is the variety. I can notice nature, I can listen to a guided meditation or I can use my steps to measure breath: breathe in over 10 steps, hold for 10 steps and breathe out for 10 steps.”
“Whenever you are outside you can get a powerful meditation when you are connecting with the earth,” she said. “Sometimes places of decision making and to-do lists house creates energy that can interfere with your meditation. But when you are outside, you can connect with the energy of nature. All things of nature have a purer energetic quality than man-made things.”
Marilyn Goldberg, Hill resident and retired college professor who is a Buddhist and has meditated for years, walks about 3.6 miles a day average. She’s been walking since 2014. During the pandemic she’s been walking even more.
A meditative walk is often the kind of walk I choose to do,” said Marilyn. “Walking meditation is much better for some than sitting meditation. It’s easier.”
Marilyn suggests one way of doing a walking meditation is while being aware of your surroundings, you pay attention to the actual walking. “Focus what you are doing physically. It’s a support for meditation. Another way is for you to pay attention to your breathing. Or, you can also combine both.”
She said the point is be focused on what you are actually doing so that you are paying attention. After you’ve got your focus down and you are relaxed, then you can expand your awareness and walk with that. “For example, if you pay attention to steps and have been repetitive for a while, you can then expand your awareness. All of sudden you’ve got a big open sky.”
“Even in the city you are outside in nature. The benefits include becoming calm and more relaxed. You can focus on sound of birds chirping or colors of flowers. The walking is great for improving lower body bone density. Mine has improved since 2017.”
Jana Lerbach, health/wellness coach in the Washington metro area uses walking meditation with some of her clients. “I use several techniques that include focusing on a particular color then finding everything of that color. Then I ask what emotion if any, does it bring up. Walking meditation is also good to use with little children. Ask them to pick a shape. Then find objects that shape as we walk. Another technique is searching for something such as leaves as you walk. The point is to focus on giving attention to something that’s present. Usually we are walking very slowly.”
An Insight meditation teacher describes walking meditation as a metaphor for how we want to live our daily life – making each step count. Learning to walk without a purpose or compulsion in a controllable and relaxed way, enhances the happiness we can experience.
To learn more about Karin check out her recipes and art work at: www:karinedgett.art.
Pattie Cinelli is a health and fitness professional and journalist who has been writing her column for more than 20 years. She focuses on non-traditional ways to stay healthy and get well. Please email her with questions or column suggestions at: [email protected]