When we think about meditation, we almost always have an image of the meditator sitting on a cushion or on a chair in quiet contemplation. But meditation can in fact be practised during movement or exercise too.
One great way to expand on an already established meditation practise or to explore a different way of meditating is by introducing walking meditation into your weekly routine.
In my own Zen practise, walking meditation is a natural extension of zazen (sitting meditation). It was something that we also explored daily when I trained as a Zen Meditation and Mindfulness Teacher with my own Zen Teacher. We also practice it in our regular sittings with the sangha, as a short five minute ‘movement meditation’ to break up long periods of zazen.
The great thing about walking meditation is that it can be done anywhere in the world, at any time and in any weather. It doesn’t matter if you live in open countryside or in the inner cities, as long as you can walk somewhere you can practise walking meditation.
You can also do it at any speed, a slow stroll or a quick paced walk, it really doesn’t matter, just as long as you are walking. Plus you can do it for as little as a minute or for as long as you wish. I love to incorporate both walking and even running meditation during my weekly meditation practices, it opens our awareness up to a different meditation experience.
I would suggest you begin exploring walking meditation by dedicating a set time to commit to your practise. Be it a short 10 minute walk around the block or a longer period of exercise. During this time make the commitment to switch off all distractions such as listening to music or scrolling through your phone. Leave electronic devices at home, or at least don’t be tempted to get them out until you have completed the time you have set aside for your practise.
Physical Body Awareness
As you begin to walk, bring your awareness to your body. I always like to begin my walking meditations by checking in with myself on both a physical and emotional level. Physically how does your body feel as you walk? Do you feel tension or tightness anywhere in the body? Do you feel tired, alert or indifferent?
You can also bring your attention to your pace, your gait or your arms swaying as you walk. Don’t try to change anything, just become aware of the movement that naturally occurs in the body as you walk.
Next you can check in with how you are feeling emotionally. Again don’t try to alter or change anything. Just meet however you are feeling with kindness and a gentle curiosity. If you feel sad, just notice that. If you feel happy, irritated, anxious, joyful, again just notice it. A mindfulness practice is about cultivating the ability to meet ourselves exactly as we are at any given moment, without judgement or without the need to feel as if we should change something.
Tune in to sights and sounds
You can now begin to expand your awareness outwards, using your senses. First you may bring your attention to the sights around you. The shapes, textures and colours of your surroundings. How the light reflects on things. How nature moves as you move. Then you may begin to notice the sounds you can hear around you to. Expanding your hearing outwards. I often like to first pay attention to the sounds that are close by to me, and then slowly I will expand my hearing out as far as I can. Can you hear distant traffic? The sounds of a plane up above? The trick here is not cling to the sights and sounds that come into your awareness, not to get too involved with them, but simply just allowing them to come into your awareness and to pass again.
Awareness of Scents and Smells
Notice the smells and scents around you. Gently bring your attention to any familiar smells as you walk, pleasant or unpleasant. Fresh cut grass? Traffic fumes? How does the air smell around you as you move? Does it change?
Notice how the ground feels under your feet as you move. Is the ground soft or hard? How do your feet, ankles and legs feel each time you take a step? Take a few minutes bringing your attention to how your feet and body is rooted to the earth by gravity. How does this feel?
Mindfulness of Sensations
Bring your attention to how the environment brings about different sensations in the body as you move. The sensation of the warm or cold of the air on your face. The movement of the breeze or wind through your hair. Can you see your breath as you walk? How does the air actually feel as it enters the body through your nose or mouth, is it cool or warm? Can you feel it move down into your lungs. Practising this type of mindful awareness, over time, encourages us to have more embodiment.
Awareness of breath
As you walk you can begin to count the rhythm of your natural breathing. As you breathe in count one, as you breathe out count two, as you breathe in count three, as you breathe out count four and so-on, until you reach ten and then start back again at one. If you find it easier you can simply just count the out breaths. Again, don’t try and alter anything about the natural rhythm of your breath. Don’t try to breath more deeply or more slowly, or whatever, simply just bring your awareness to your breath as you move and notice it. You can bring your attention to the lowest place you can feel it as you walk. Can you feel it in your chest, your solar plexus or even in your belly? Does it speed up when your pace does, or does it stay the same?
Walking meditation is something we explore on my eight week Zen Meditation and Mindfulness Courses, the perfect way to combine a movement practise of the body and a focused awareness practise for the mind. Just remember the aim during your walking meditation practise is to remain open and aware of your surroundings, whilst also allowing any thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations or memories to simply arise and pass, arise and pass. But most of all enjoy experiencing each moment by moment.