One of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness is through walking meditations. In general, meditation is known to minimize stress, reduce inflammation, and improve mood. Walking meditation is an ancient practice known as kinhin in some Buddhist cultures, and involves a focus on the breath while remaining keenly aware of the physical act of walking. There are essentially four walking meditation methods.
Related: “Take A Few Deep Breaths…Literally”
Traditional Back & Forth
Find a quiet area, perhaps surrounded by trees or a body of water that will provide the added benefit of negative ions. The location is important because this will become your sacred space, as you will be returning to it every time you want to repeat the process and become centered.
Establish a path approximately ten to fifteen paces long, then walk slowly back and forth, retracing your steps each time. Pause for breath whenever you feel it’s necessary. When you reach the end of your path, turn and focus on mindful breathing once again.
This may sound silly, but it helps to still the mind. Imagine being in the middle of a heated argument or trying to take care of screaming children, but being able to pause, go to your sacred outdoor path and give up your woes to the Universe.
There is a mechanistic way of walking properly, but you can adapt it to your individual style. During each step, be sure to lift one foot, move the other foot a bit forward of where you are standing, place the foot on the ground heel-first instead of toe-first, shift the weight of your body on the forward leg as you lift your back heel, while the toes of the other foot still remain on the ground. Use slow, small steps and relax your arms and hands.
This walking meditation is a little less formal and involves a focus on inhaling and exhaling properly as you walk. Take deep breaths, then inhale while counting for four seconds, then exhale while counting to eight. These breathing techniques are called Pranayama and are used in yoga.
As far as the walking route goes, breathing-centered walking meditations can be as long or as short as you would like. The method works best when you are in familiar surroundings and can focus on mindfulness rather than navigating the environment.
This wonderful meditation begins with checking in with your body to see how it feels. Deeply notice how the surrounding environment affects different bodily sensations. It is lovely amidst a grove of beautiful trees or even on snowy slopes in the wintertime. Do you have a favorite hilltop view? Use it, or any other favorite scenic place, to wholly employ all five senses while meditating.
Mantras can be used as an aid to keep your mind clear of invasive thoughts. It’s a process that involves saying a word or phrase repeatedly and can be any phrase that you choose, not only ohm. Some find it helpful to count while walking and breathing deeply in and out. Mantras are done aloud, so it’s best to find a secluded, private area for mantra meditation.
The great thing about walking meditation is that it goes anywhere you do. Vacationing at the beach? Wonderful, plan your walking meditation at sunrise in the salt air. Going on a business trip? Plan a walking route in a city park around your hotel. You can return to your designated space each time you return for a visit. Practice makes perfect, and the more you do it, the more you will reap the benefits.
You may want to plan your walking route using technology. There are many apps that allow you to plan. MapMyWalk and Fitbit App Mobile Tracker, which does not require the purchase of a Fitbit, are just a couple of examples of free apps that you can use.
Customizing Your Walking Meditation to Reflect Your Individuality
Walking mindfully reminds us that we all have a link to a higher power that can be accessed any time, anywhere, no matter what is going on in the outside world. It is free and anyone can afford to do it.
The process of deliberately slow-walking meditations can be substituted by jogging or running meditations as well. The only difference is speed, but all of the other variables remain the same. The idea is to bring awareness of the natural world into your consciousness.
Walking meditations can be used every day and lay the groundwork for a healthy body, mind, and spirit. Doing mundane tasks around the neighborhood each day, such as walking to the post office or store, can be an opportunity to practice more.
I love walking with my dog, but I will say that “Rover” is not always obedient, and takes up a lot of my attention. Maybe someday we can teach dogs to do walking meditations as well? Okay maybe not, but imagine how grateful dog owners would be if their nervous canine suddenly became a relaxed, quiet companion. Now that may be worth some study!