When someone says the word “meditation,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
If you’re like most people, you picture someone sitting on the floor, legs crossed, eyes closed, and palms turned up. But did you know that walking meditation can be just as profound?
Walking meditation, typically known as kinhin in eastern traditions, is a form of meditative practice that leverages elements of movement (walking) and periods of sitting in combination with a meditative focus and steadied breathing to quiet the mind and evoke peace, clarity, and balance.
Walking meditation is really a general term for a series of mindfulness practices. The type of walking meditation you use depends on your level of comfort and experience, as well as your expectations and objectives.
Generally, during walking meditation, you walk in a pattern. Common patterns include walking in a circle, walking in a labyrinth, or walking back and forth in a straight line. The pace tends to be slow and deliberate. And while many forms of walking meditation involve continuous walking, other forms include walking, followed by seated meditation, followed by more walking.
A walking meditation session can be simple and casual, or it can be detailed and structured - broken down into specific segments and sections. Again, it all depends on what the individual wants to get out of the practice.
Walking meditation has been in practice for centuries - and for good reason! Over the past few decades, researchers have been able to gather scientific and medical data that explains why it works so well. Here are some of the biggest benefits:
Reduces anxiety. Meditation is often seen as a practice for quieting the mind and blocking out feelings of stress and anxiety. Walking meditation is no different. According to a 2017 study of young adults, walking is shown to be more effective in reducing and eliminating symptoms of anxiety when it’s combined with meditation. Best of all, the walking meditation sessions only lasted 10 minutes. This makes it a quick and effective tool for combatting the sudden onset of anxiety.
Lessens depression. According to a 2014 study, elderly individuals report fewer symptoms of depression after practicing walking meditations three times per week for a period of 12 weeks. This speaks to the value in making walking meditation a regular habit.
Increases blood flow. Walking has long been known to improve circulation in people who sit for long periods of time. Walking meditation further boosts blood flow by raising your level of alertness and increasing energy levels. (People who are practicing walking meditation - as opposed to just walking - are shown to walk for longer periods of time.)
Improves digestion. Walking is known to help move food through the digestive tract and aid in the overall food digestion process. It may also prevent constipation. Thus, meditating in tandem with walking is seen as a superior option to simple seated meditation.
Improves blood sugar levels. According to a 2016 study, walking meditation practices have a positive impact on circulation and blood sugar levels in individuals who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Two groups participated in the study. The control group practiced traditional walking for 30 minutes per day, three times per week, for 12 weeks. The second group followed the same schedule, but practiced meditative walking (rather than traditional walking). Those in the second group showed more improvement than those in the first.
Enhances sleep quality. Looking for better sleep? Research shows that regular moderate exercise has a positive impact on sleep quality - making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Thus, it’s no surprise that many find meditative walking in the early evening hours to be an effective practice for winding down, clearing the mind, and preparing for bed.
Makes exercise more enjoyable. People often give up on their fitness routines because they aren’t fun or enjoyable. Could walking meditation help? Well, according to a 2018 study, people who listen to mindfulness recordings while doing short, 10-minute walks on a treadmill find the activity to be more enjoyable. This increased their willingness to exercise again in the future.
Boosts creativity. There’s ample research to suggest that mindfulness stokes feelings of creativity. Likewise, physical activity is known to spark creative thoughts. Thus, the combination of walking and meditation is believed to directly boost creativity at an accelerated rate.
These are just a few of the documented perks. If you speak with those who practice walking meditation on a regular basis, you’ll hear a variety of other physical and emotional benefits. Give it a try and see for yourself!
The beauty of walking meditation is that there’s room for creativity and personalization. While the basic principles remain the same, you have the freedom to adapt the structure to fit your needs. Here are some tips to help you get started:
The first step is to pick a place where you can practice walking meditation. Here are a few factors to consider:
• Look for a place that’s fairly flat with as few obstacles as possible. This reduces the amount of physical and mental energy you have to divert away from the meditative practice.
• The location should be free of traffic and other busy pathways where you would have to be super alert of your surroundings.
• You’ll want to avoid a neighborhood setting or anywhere where other people may frequently stop you and try to engage in conversation.
• If you have long hallways or other indoor stretches that are conducive to walking, this may be a good option (particularly for periods of inclement weather).
Walking meditation can take on any number of shapes, forms, or styles. Therefore, it’s smart to begin any session with a basic idea of how it’ll go, what you want to accomplish, and the sort of structure you’ll use to guide the process from start to finish.
When you have a plan in place, it frees your mind to focus on the meditation - not the details. And should you ever find yourself deviating from the plan, you can gently coax yourself back on course to ensure the session is as meaningful as possible.
One of the keys to walking meditation is to be very deliberate in how you think about walking and moving. Walking is something that we normally take for granted. We see it as one big motion when it’s actually made up of a series of much smaller movements and sensations. Awakening yourself to this reality will make the experience more meaningful.
There are four basic components to every step:
• You lift one foot into the air
• The foot is then moved slightly forward of where you’re currently standing
• The foot is placed onto the ground (heel first)
• Your bodyweight is shifted away from the heel and to the toes.
This cycle repeats over and over again. Hundreds or thousands of times over the course of a single session of meditative walking. Eventually, this four-part cycle will become etched into your mind.
Part of walking meditation is clearing your mind so that you can focus on the external stimuli around you. And if you let them, nearly all of your senses will become engaged in the process:
Sounds. What sounds do you hear around you? Barking dogs, rustling leaves, wind, gravel under your feet, etc. Greet these sounds and then let them pass. A sound is nothing more than a sound.
Smell. Whether pleasant (flowers) or foul (garbage), you will encounter smells during most walking meditation. Don’t force yourself to find smells, but acknowledge them when they pass.
Sights. What do you see? Colors, textures, familiar sights, or unusual elements? Don’t linger on any one element too long. You’re engaging with your immediate surroundings without daydreaming or drifting.
If you’re unable to walk for long periods of time, or you find it difficult to meditate while walking, you can always take a seat. (In fact, most ancient walking meditations involve periods of walking followed by sitting, followed by walking again.) However, you’ll want to factor this into your plan from the beginning so that the transition can be as smooth as possible.
While walking meditation can have immediate and positive results, it’s most effective when leveraged as a long-term practice. It’s recommended that you perform walking meditation at least three times per week for a period of three or four months in order to enjoy the optimum benefits outlined earlier in this article.
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