Many dream of starting a daily meditation practice. After all, meditation leads to greater health and happiness – right? Maybe, but establishing a formal sitting practice is not easy. The mind strays and the body becomes restless.
But as it turns out, the Buddha taught that one should achieve mindfulness in many different postures: standing, sitting, lying down and walking. That means if you can’t sit still, you have options. One of the oldest forms of mindfulness practice is a walking meditation.
Walking meditation prevents the sleepiness or excessive tension that often comes with a sitting practice, according to Buddhist teacher John Cianciosi. The focus is on the act of walking instead of the breath. Although you can bring mindfulness to any moment in your day, including the walk from your car to your home or during your daily shop, setting aside time to walk for its own sake can lead to a deeper experience. Here are some tips for a structured walking meditation.
- Choose a straight path about 10 to 20 yards long. The action of turning around at the end of the path will keep your mind focused. Walking in a circle without this break can lead to a straying mind, so find a spot where you can walk back and forth.
- Your path should be straight and level. While it’s not necessary to walk barefoot, it can increase your focus as you remain attuned to your body.
- Look for a quiet spot. Although mindfulness is desirable in any environment, it is easier to achieve with few distractions or possibilities of interruption.
- Start at one end of the path. Clasp your hands together in prayer position. Then drop your hands if you wish and lift your right foot. As you begin this step, become aware of the movement of your leg and foot as each goes up and down. Repeat with your left foot.
- Continue walking at a slow pace. Remain relaxed and attuned to your body as it moves.
- Keep your gaze affixed downward. This is intended to reduce distraction. Some practitioners walk with their eyes half open, to limit distraction but also properly navigate as they walk.
- At the end of the path, refocus your attention if your mind has strayed. Repeat your stride in the opposite direction. If you need a mental device to keep you focused, simply think “left” or “right” with each step.
The length of the walking meditation is up to you. Experienced monks spend hours engaging in the practice, but you can feel the benefits after 15 to 30 minutes. Even if your focus needs a little work, your heart will thank you for this gentle practice that gets the body moving.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons/Dee Mc