For more than 25 centuries, since Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, first described walking as a form of meditation, human beings have engaged in this rewarding practice that is simple yet enduringly rewarding. Its origins are exclusively Buddhist, and today practically every sect and sub-sect of the faith has its own version of walking meditation.
Some methods follow an ancient version of the practice while others are simpler, more user-friendly variants. Japanese Zen monks in the 11th century had a powerful influence on the transmission of the teaching. Their use of matcha tea in ritualistic ceremonies was an early form of mindful eating and drinking. Later, they taught lay people in the villages how to walk mindfully to continue meditation sessions throughout their work days.
There are at least a dozen popular versions of walking meditation systems and teachings. Below are the nine key elements that most of them have in common. Note that it’s okay to add or subtract from the method’s components as long as you keep the overall goal in mind: walking meditation is a way to increase consciousness of the mind and body while engaging in deliberative, aware walking.
Plan your walk
Spend just a few minutes contemplating where you will go and how much time you plan to spend. It is best to do walking meditation outdoors whenever possible, but if weather or other circumstances dictate, it’s okay to walk indoors too. If that is the case, make sure you have at least a 25-pace long route that is straight and flat.
Just before you begin, stand still for a minute or so
Try to notice all the sensations in your entire body. Breathe deeply and exhale completely one or two times. After that, return to breathing in the usual way and notice what it feels like to be fully alert and ready to walk.
Don’t do errands or walk for fitness during a meditation walk.
Just notice your body’s movement, to include sensations in the feet, legs, torso, head and arms. Be aware of the cadence of the feet as they lift, swing through the air and then land again on the ground. Be conscious of the present moment, not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow.
Have at least 20 minutes to devote to doing nothing but walking meditation
Don’t worry about going fast or slow. You might notice that keeping your attention on the present will lead to very slow walking. This is usually a sign that you are attentive and on the right track.
Notice every possible sensation
Every each of them that are taking place inside your body and on the skin and exterior. Begin with the feet, sensing the soles, heels and toes as you walk. Expand this feeling by slowly moving up the leg via the shin, knees, calves and finally the thighs.
Try to look forward
As you continue to scan your body’s sensations and register them in each moment, try to look forward and maintain just enough attention on the act of walking as necessary. Continue scanning your body’s sensations up to the top of the head and then reverse the direction, all the way back down to the feet.
Take in every sense impression at once
to include what you’re seeing, your skin temperature, the smell of the air, ambient noises as well as the sounds your feet make as they step rhythmically. This is what Buddhists call an authentic impression of the present moment.
Inevitably, your mind will start to stray from the focused attention you’ve developed thus far. That is to be expected! It is the nature of the human mind, especially one that is not accustomed to walking meditation. Very slowly and gently, bring your mind back to the present moment, the walking. Do not force or push the mind, but rather call it back to the moment, the way you might call a puppy that has run into the neighbor’s yard.
Repetition and regularity
These will bring a depth and texture to the practice that can only be built up over time. Don’t expect any dramatic insights on the first few outings. Just learn the mechanics of the process and repeat, repeat, repeat. Within a week or so, walking meditation will bring many valuable and joyous impressions.
One of the best things about walking meditation is that it is a simple practice that brings myriad rewards to regular practitioners. If you can walk, you can meditate. Many older folks have trouble sitting for long periods of time as a result of health problems. If so, walking meditation can be a wonderful way to enjoy the fruits of contemplation yet not have to endure problematic postures. On the other hand, even the youngest and healthiest among us can learn a different way of meditating. Try walking meditation a few times and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at how intensely relaxing and insightful the experience can be.