Where was your mind the last time you walked—in your neighborhood, local park, or city? Were you on the phone? Were you listening to a podcast or some music? Were you lost in thought? Outside, it’s almost second nature for the legs to keep moving while the mind and attention are somewhere else. Simply put, a walking meditation is designed to sync your mind and body while you are out and about.
A mindfulness walk will be a great alternative if sitting and closing your eyes to meditate does not appeal to you.
Walking is a habituated and established action that people do on auto-pilot.
The moment you step out of the door, your mind also tends to wander and before long, you are caught up dwelling, planning, reminiscing, worrying, or analyzing.
However, each time you do any of those things, you move away from the present moment and from the opportunity to connect with nature and your surroundings.
Also, you fail to appreciate the simple pleasures walking provides.
Mindfulness walking or meditating while walking is a great way to get your mind to walk with you and bring a new and relaxed focus to this everyday pursuit.
What is Meditative Walking?
In a nutshell, walking meditation is a mindfulness practice where you blend walking with the focused mindfulness of being in a meditative state.
Walking meditation allows you to focus on the mind and body connection as you pace or walk around.
With this type of meditation, you get to decide your walking pace as well as the length of your session.
During a walking meditation session, you will take a few steps for a specific time and focus on the body’s movement.
At the same time, you also pay close attention to the physical sensations each step brings.
Kinhin meditation offers the best of both worlds as it alternates between sitting and walking meditation.
While referred to as walking meditation, this does not mean you will walk around like a zombie with your eyes closed.
Rather, you are walking around mindfully using a meditative technique with your eyes wide open and at a pace you like.
It is common for many people to do sitting meditation in a private space and then go for a walk afterward—alone, with a dog, or with a partner.
This is done so they can still take the meditative state, which is the best way to integrate mindfulness into any walk.
In essence, you will use walking as a tool to familiarize yourself with the present moment and you do this by redirecting your mind.
Rather than focusing on the breath as you do with sitting meditation, your focus will be on the rhythm of your gait.
The Perfect Walking Exercise
You can approach walking meditation in several ways, depending on your location.
For instance, a stroll in the park is different from a quick pace walk around the mall or the city.
However, meditative walks are perfect for those individuals who live a busy life and you can do it anytime and anywhere and at a pace that you like.
When you start to walk, observe how your body feels.
Does it feel stiff, relaxed, light, or heavy?
Take a few seconds to check your posture and how you carry yourself.
Without changing the way you walk, observe your gait and bring your attention to it.
While this can make you self-conscious at first, the feeling usually passes.
Tune into the things that are going on around you—window displays, trees, passing cars, and other sights that come into your vision and awareness field.
Don’t think about any of the things that you see. Just simply acknowledge that they are there.
Notice the sounds that you hear.
What are they?
Again, acknowledge what you hear but don’t dwell on them.
Now turn your attention to any of the smells, both pleasant and unpleasant.
Observe how the mind wants to create a story out of each smell and how it reminds you of something, someone, or somewhere.
Notice any physical sensations, from how the soles of your feet touch the ground to how the weather makes you feel.
Again, make sure you don’t think about any of the things that you have observed.
Simply take notice, acknowledge, and then let go.
After a minute or two, observe the sensation of movement in the body, how your arms swing by your side or how your weight shifts from right to left.
Notice your pace, your stride, and your rhythm.
Focus on your rhythm.
Use the rhythm (the soles of your feet touching the ground) as your awareness base.
Use it as a place you can return to when your mind starts to wander off.
Repeat this throughout your walk, every step of the way, block by block and mile by mile.
The steps above are merely guidelines and not rules, so adapt them to what suits you, however long it takes and wherever you go.
For instance, if you walk for 10 minutes, you can opt for the street-by-street basis.
At the start of each block, remind yourself of your intention to walk distraction-free until you reach the next junction or street.
As soon as your mind wanders, bring your attention gently to the sensation at the soles of your feet.
Walking in Nature
Nothing is more refreshing than going outside and taking a walk in nature, connecting with all the sounds, sights, and scents.
Checking in with the scenery and yourself can transform an ordinary walk into a special experience and an appreciation of life.
The stillness of the natural landscape—forest, river, mountain trail means that the only distractions will be your mind and the devices you would take with you if any.
Be aware of any sensations in your body and your posture while maintaining a comfortable and steady rhythm, breathing normally and walking naturally.
You must also use the rhythm of your walk as the point of gentle focus.
By doing this, you bring your mind to a place of rest and allow it to fully engage in the environment and the present moment.
Walking in Your Home
If you can’t go for a long stroll for one reason or another, it should not hinder you from doing a walking meditation inside.
It’s all a matter of using the interior space to your advantage.
You can walk the length of a hallway or room as long as you have enough space to walk freely in a straight line (at least 10 steps or more).
Mark out your start and end points, and just walk back and forth between the two.
Take slow and deliberate steps and notice how your body feels.
Notice your movement and bring your attention to the rhythm of your walk each time your mind wanders.
The Benefits of Meditation Walks
Walking meditation originates in Buddhism and is often used as an integral part of the mindfulness practice.
Meditation walks have many benefits and can help you feel balanced, grounded, and serene.
It has also been known to help you develop a different awareness of your body, thoughts, and surroundings.
Below are some of the enticing benefits of meditative walking:
It helps boost blood flow.
Walking meditation can help get the blood flowing, especially to the legs.
It also helps alleviate feelings of stagnancy and sluggishness.
Mindful walking is also a wonderful way to raise energy levels and boost blood circulation.
It is also especially helpful if you have been sitting for extended periods.
It helps improve digestion.
Walking after eating is also a great way to boost digestion, especially if you feel full or heavy.
Movement can help your food to move through your digestive tract and help prevent constipation.
It helps minimize anxiety.
If you want to reduce your stress levels, doing a seated meditation practice before or after working out would be beneficial.
A 2017 study on young adults revealed that walking is more effective in minimizing anxiety symptoms when combined with meditation.
The study participants showed significant changes in anxiety levels when they meditated, meditated while walking, or walked before meditating.
The control group and those who only walked did not show any improvements.
Each walking meditation session only lasted for 10 minutes.
It helps improve circulation and blood sugar levels.
A 2016 study concluded that a Buddhist-based walking meditation practice positively affected the circulation and blood sugar levels of those with type 2 diabetes.
People practiced traditional or mindful walking for 30 minutes thrice a week for 12 weeks.
The group that did a meditation walk showed more improvement than the group that only did conventional walking.
It helps alleviate depression.
As you age, you must stay active.
Regular exercise helps improve mood and fitness—both often decline in older adults.
Another study in 2014 revealed that older people who practiced meditative walking showed fewer signs of depression after doing walking meditations for 12 weeks.
They also showed functional fitness levels and improved blood pressure.
It helps improve well-being.
When possible, it would be best to take a walk in nature, like a garden, park, or a place with plenty of trees, as it can help enhance your overall feelings of wellness and well-being.
Walking meditations can also help you feel more balanced.
The practice of forest bathing is popular in Japan as it helps relax the mind and enhance brain activity.
Another study revealed that people who walked for 15 minutes in a bamboo forest showed significant improvements in their anxiety levels, blood pressure, and mood.
It helps improve sleep quality.
To fully enjoy all the benefits of exercise, it’s not a requirement that you always do an intense workout.
A study from 2019 revealed that regular moderate exercise like meditative walking positively impacts your sleep quality.
Walking can also help improve your flexibility and reduce muscle tension, helping you feel better physically.
In addition, meditative walking can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, especially if you walk in the morning.
As a result, you will develop a clearer and calmer mind and find it easier to sleep at night.
It can help make exercise more enjoyable.
When you incorporate mindfulness into your fitness routine, you can make your exercise routine more enjoyable.
Researchers of a small study in 2018 found out that people who listened to mindfulness recordings while doing a 10-minutes walk found the activity more enjoyable.
They were also able to observe their physical sensations in a nonjudgmental way.
It helps inspire creativity.
Practicing mindfulness can also bring more focus and clarity to your thought patterns and help stimulate your creativity.
A 2015 research revealed the link between creativity and mindfulness.
Many studies have also indicated the link between mindfulness and cultivating new ideas and enhancing your problem-solving skills.
It helps enhance balance.
A study in 2019 revealed that walking meditation could improve balance, ankle coordination, and awareness.
The practice also involved awareness of the ankle and leg movements while walking slowly.
Meditative walking is a practice that can take time to cultivate. However, the many benefits it offers makes it worth the effort. You can also do a walking meditation after a seated meditation. Discussing your goals and practicing with a therapist, teacher, or friend would also be a great idea. It is also ideal that you touch base to assess your progress and the insights you have developed. From there, you will know how to deepen your practice to benefit you more.