A few months ago, the BBC did a piece on the death of “purposeless walking.” Many famous thinkers were walkers, including Henry David Thoreau, Constantin Brancusi and Friedrich Nietzsche, and wrote about the way it helped them clear their mind and spark inspiration. Perhaps people are walking for walking’s sake less frequently these days, but there is a rise in purposeful walking.
Walking for a purpose—to still the mind, heal the body and restore balance and calm—is making a comeback. This is called walking meditation. Walking meditation is another form of meditation that’s commonly practiced in Buddhism. It’s wonderful for people who can’t sit still, and it’s great for developing concentration without getting bored.
With walking meditation, you generally walk much slower than usual, and use the same techniques and formats that you use in sitting meditation. The only difference is that you perform them while walking.
How to do walking meditation
As you start to walk, begin counting each breath silently in your mind, one through five. Focus your attention on the sensation of the air passing through the tip of your nose. You can count either on the in-breath, or on the out-breath. Do whichever is most comfortable for you. When you get to five, start over.
When a stray thought or outside distraction interrupts your concentration, simply ignore it and immediately bring your attention back to your breath.
Stop counting about three-quarters of the way through your session, and change your focus over to mindful walking, described below.
How to do mindful walking
If you want to practice mindfulness with walking meditation, then gently observe all the parts of your body that are involved in the walking motion, such as your feet, calves, thighs, hips and shoulders. Notice, for example, the sensation on the bottom of your feet as you take each step. When any distractions arise, gently bring your attention back to your walking.
You can learn so much about your body by walking mindfully. What other parts of your body are involved? Notice the way they move, and how they all work together to perform one graceful motion. How about your balance? What’s involved in keeping your balance?
The benefits of walking mindfully
Walking meditation and walking mindfully have a strong calming effect. There are two reasons for this. First, this type of walking challenges your sense of balance. If you have to pay close attention to keeping your balance, you force yourself to concentrate and be mindful, and therefore, stay in the present moment. Second, by slowing down your body, you force your mind to follow suit.
Walking meditation and mindful walking also help our body from getting uncomfortable from sitting for long periods. And walking this way helps burn off any excess sugar that may be in our bloodstream, which can make us feel restless or anxious.
Doing a whole session of walking meditation can be very calming if you do it outside in a beautiful setting, such as a park or garden. In addition to being mindful of your footsteps, be mindful of your surroundings. Enjoy the beauty and wonders of nature, such as the trees, flowers, fresh air and all the critters.
Walking meditation can also be done in groups with wonderful results. You can do a combination of sitting and walking meditation, and have discussions about the practice. A meditation group can be a great resource for both beginning and experienced meditators. If you’d like to start your own group, you can download a free group starter kit here.
Charles A. Francis is the author of Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding True Inner Peace (Paradigm Press), and co-founder and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute. He teaches mindfulness meditation to individuals, develops mindfulness training programs for organizations, and leads workshops and mindfulness meditation retreats. Learn more at MindfulnessMeditationInstitute.org.