As the weather warms up and spring edges in, it’s the perfect time to take your mindfulness practice outside. Walking meditation is a great way to anchor your attention into your physical body and slow down your mind and movements.
We spend too much of our time rushing from point A to point B. Walking meditation is an opportunity to do just the opposite—think of walking meditation as a slow stroll without any other purpose or destination except to stroll—and be with any experiences that come up while putting one foot in front of the other.
Why Try Walking Meditation?
Walking meditations can provide the same benefits as seated meditations—present moment awareness, relaxation, stress-reduction, focus—but in a different way. Walking meditation is also:
- Energizing: Walking first thing in the morning is a great way to wake up the body and mind to get you ready for the day. Walking during lunch or after work can be helpful to break the pattern of sitting in a desk all day.
- Convenient: One great thing about walking meditations is that they can be integrated into your day, when you would normally be walking anyway … you can turn a simple and necessary walk from the parking garage to your office into a mindfulness practice.
- Improves Concentration: It’s no secret that it can be difficult to focus on one thing at a time in our fast-paced culture. Walking meditation encourages us to root our attention into our physical body, one step at a time. This can be an incredibly powerful practice in concentration and one-pointed attention.
As you practice during specific periods of time dedicated to walking meditation, you’ll find that you’ll begin to transform the steps you take during other times of the day, too. We spend so much time in our lives walking—walking meditation is a powerful way to transform something we do every day into a mindful, peaceful experience.
When to Practice
When you’re first starting out, it’s a good idea to set aside a window of time and specific location to practice walking meditation. Here are some ideal times:
- Before Sunrise: The energy outside before daybreak is quiet and still. There aren’t many interruptions and you are likely not expected to be anywhere else in life. If you’re not an early bird, walking anytime before work will energize you for the day ahead.
- Lunch Break: Moving your body is a great way to fight the mid-day slump and reset for the afternoon.
- After Work: Release the day with a walk. Walking meditation can change your perspective and help you separate work from home life.
- After Dinner: Any movement is helpful after a big meal, even if you’re walking slow. Set a peaceful tone for the remainder of the evening with a post-dinner mindful walk around the block.
How to Get Started With Walking Meditation
Walking meditations can be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. I recommend finding a walking path that is short—about 40 feet long—in a place without distraction or traffic (a park would be ideal). While you’ll be walking much farther than 40 feet, the purpose of choosing a short, predetermined path, is that when you pace the same route back and forth, it requires almost no thought on where to go next and it minimizes the chances that you’ll encounter something in your way. You get to know the route quickly, so you can focus on nothing but the experience of walking and let everything else go for the duration of your meditative walk.
Make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes, or even better—go barefoot—which will help you tune into your body and connect with the ground beneath you. Also, don’t forget to leave your phone behind so you don’t bring worries or distractions into your practice.
While walking meditation can be practiced indoors, an outside route is almost always better, in my opinion. The combination of fresh air, sunshine, and peaceful movement is energizing and gets you closer to nature.
- Start in mountain pose, with your feet hips-distance apart. Take a few deep, slow breaths. Begin to scan your body—starting at the feet and moving up the body—noticing any sensations in the body or mind before you begin to move. Notice the ground beneath you and your connection to the earth; notice any tension or stiffness as you scan and observe one body part at a time; notice any thoughts or emotions that you may be holding. Continue to bring awareness up the body piece by piece, all the way to the crown of your head.
- Start taking small, slow steps that align with your breath. As you inhale, step forward with your right foot, and exhale to place your left foot in front of the right. See how slow you can make your breathing and steps. Keep your pace consistent, slow and relaxed. As you walk, try to come to a rhythm, think “heel, arch, ball, toes” and repeat, placing one part of your foot on the earth at a time.
- When you arrive at the end of your path, simply stop, take a deep breath, and turn around to continue back the way you came.
- Make a conscious decision about where to gaze for your walk. Some people find it useful to keep their eyes focused down to avoid distraction, eye contact, or any external stimulants. Others like to take in every bit of the scenery—the sights, the colors, the sounds, the smells—noticing every detail while walking. Either way is fine and you might find that you switch up your approach depending on your location or mood, but make a conscious decision about which approach you’ll take for each practice. If you are looking up and taking it all in through your senses, you’ll be traveling the same route over and over again—so observe how much more you notice with each lap you take and as you settle more and more into your practice.
- Try to keep your attention on your breath and your steps. This is easier when your gaze is down, so you might want to start with that approach if you find your attention wandering. Just like in seated meditation, your mind will wander to other thoughts. Each time you notice your mind wandering, just bring that attention back to your breath, your steps, and the present moment.
Mark your calendars for 10 or 20 minutes tomorrow to head outside for a mindful walk—make sure you have no other destination other than to stroll and get some fresh air.
Once you get comfortable with your mindful walking practice, you can begin to bring in elements from your meditation throughout your day—while walking to work, grocery shopping, or anytime you find yourself moving on two feet.
*This post was adapted from the book, The Type A’s Guide to Mindfulness: Meditation for Busy Minds and Busy People.