Sitting on a cushion with legs crossed is not a requirement when it comes to meditation. We can meditate while seated on a chair, standing, walking, or even lying down. Walking meditation differs from the others in that it incorporates movement into our practice.
During a retreat or longer mindfulness sessions, we can alternate between walking and seated meditation to give the body a break. We can also practice walking meditation on its own. Just like mindfulness of breathing, walking meditation brings awareness to something we typically do without paying attention. Walking with intention can help integrate a formal practice into our daily lives.
Walking meditation is a beneficial practice that anyone can do, even beginners. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of meditation while walking, how it works and how to practice it.
What is Walking Meditation?
Walking meditation is the practice of intentionally bringing mindfulness to our walking. It sounds simple, but as with other types of mindfulness practice, it’s not always easy.
Walking is typically done without mindfulness. As we rush from point A to point B with little but our destination in mind.
Thinking that walking is boring or that the journey is a waste of time, we may purposely distract ourselves with conversation, headphones, or multitasking.
When we bring mindfulness to our walking, we see it’s not boring at all. In fact, there’s no limit to the insight that paying attention to walking can bring. While walking, we can bring mindfulness to our body, our judgments and the movement of our mind, our relationship to the world around us, and the true nature of all phenomena, including ourselves.
People have been meditating while walking since the beginning of time. The practice also has Buddhist origins.
In his famous speech on the foundations of mindfulness, the Buddha said we could meditate while walking, standing, sitting, or lying down by being fully present and applying clear comprehension to these activities.
Walking meditation improves our presence, mindfulness and awareness. When we strengthen these we live with more contentment, peace, ease and joy.
How To Do Walking Meditation
To meditate while walking, we just walk and pay attention. Even those who walk with assistance can participate in this practice, provided they have a safe space to do so. To try mindfulness of walking, begin with the following steps:
Plan Your Route
During meditation, presence is the goal. Planning the route ahead of time avoids the need to think about where to go. Classically, walking meditation is performed in a straight line for 10-20 steps. You then pause, turn around, walk back to your starting point and repeat. Find a suitable place either indoors or out, where you’re least likely to be distracted, interrupted or seen.
Set an Intention
Setting an intention gives the mind an anchor. This allows you to differentiate between presence and distraction. When anchored to intention, we’re present. When no longer focused on the intention, we’ve become distracted. For ideas regarding your intention, scroll down to the section on the types of walking meditation.
The goal is not the destination, but to notice what happens along the way. You may notice that if you move slowly, your mind slows down, too. You have more time in which to observe all the details within each step of the walking process. Take small, natural steps. You may rest your hands by your sides, in your pockets, or clasp your hands behind your back.
As you slowly walk along your planned route, pay attention to your intention. Anytime you notice the mind has wandered to something else, simply let that thing go, and return to your intention. With practice, the mind will wander less and when it does, returning to the present moment will become easier.
Benefits of Walking Meditation
Walking meditation is not at all limited to the following benefits. These are just some of the reasons why you may want to try walking as part of your mindfulness practice.
How Walking Meditation Works
In general, we benefit from walking meditation because it helps deepen mindfulness of our body, mind, environment and the relationship between each. Walking meditation also improves our well-being in the following ways:
When we bring attention to something we typically take for granted, we begin to see that thing with more appreciation, gratitude, care and even awe. In this way, walking meditation opens our hearts and helps us better connect to the present.
Improves mind-body connection
By observing our movement with curiosity and care, we strengthen proprioception, awareness of where our body is in space. This helps improve our balance, and assists us in physically, mentally and emotionally moving through the world with more ease and grace.
Reduces stress, anxiety and depression
Studies find that meditating while walking reduces anxiety more than walking alone. It especially decreases anxiety in older patients and those who have trouble walking or trusting their bodies. It also decreases cortisol and improves immunity which researchers link to reduced depression.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
It’s well known that walking improves cardiovascular health, but walking mindfully seems to do so more effectively. Walking meditation decreases blood glucose, improves blood pressure, and reduces arterial stiffness more than just walking alone.
Fosters Appreciation for the Earth
Walking meditation brings attention to the interdependence between our bodies and the earth. As we recognize the ways in which we are supported by the earth, we become naturally inclined to tend to her with greater care and compassion, taking only what we need.
Types of Walking Meditation
There are many types of walking meditations. Traditionally, when meditating while walking we focus on the four foundations of mindfulness. We might also use gratitude, compassion or the elements as a meditation anchor.
Walking Meditation FAQs
How Long Should You Do Walking Meditation?
The duration of each walking meditation practice is up to you. You may notice it takes 5 minutes just to settle the body and mind, or that you get fatigued when practicing for longer than 20 minutes. When it comes to meditation, consistency is more important than duration. So, find a time that feels sustainable, and do it every day.
Is Walking Meditation a Good Physical Exercise?
Walking meditation provides physical exercise, but that’s not the goal. Mindful walking is best practiced slowly, at a pace that allows you to breathe easily and remain present. That said, research shows the cardiovascular and health benefits of mindful walking may surpass the benefits of walking without meditation.
Is Walking Meditation as Good as Sitting Meditation?
Both walking meditation and seated practice are equally beneficial. What matters is the quality and character of your attentiveness. Some find it easier to be mindful when sitting still. Others find it easier to do so while walking. Practice both and you may notice that each supports the other.
Where Can You Practice Walking Meditation?
To practice walking meditation, you don’t need a lot of space as the goal is not to go somewhere. You can practice indoors or out, as long as you have room to take 10-20 steps forward, turn, and go back. It’s best practiced in a place where nobody is likely to interrupt you.
How Do You Meditate When Walking?
To meditate while walking, bring mindfulness to the experience of walking. Mindfulness is a kind and curious present-moment awareness, free from judgment or self-criticism.
Is Walking Meditation Effective?
When practiced consistently, walking meditation offers the same benefits as other mindfulness practices. By developing a deeper awareness of our present moment experience and the workings of the mind, we become less reactive, more self-aware and more compassionate to both ourselves and others.
Can You Practice Walking Meditation Informally?
Absolutely. During your day, you can bring mindfulness to your walking as you move about in the office, in your home, or while running errands. However, you’ll find this much easier to do if you also have a formal practice to integrate into your day.
Is There an Incorrect Way of Walking Meditation?
During walking meditation, it can sometimes be difficult to discern when we’re meditating and when we’re not. For this reason, it’s important to set an intention. If you find the mind has wandered from your attention - even if to a thought that’s beneficial - you’re no longer meditating.
Sara-Mai Conway is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor living and working in Baja Sur, Mexico. In addition to online offerings, she teaches donation-based community classes in her tiny, off-grid hometown on the Pacific coast. She is a certified 500-hour Remedial Yoga and Applied Mindfulness Advanced teacher with Bodhi Yoga Spain under the Independent Yoga Network (UK).