Walking meditation is thought to have its origins in Buddhism. It’s recorded that the Buddha himself talked about the benefits of walking meditation and how it can assist us in the practice of awareness. Although I teach walking meditation, it’s never been a practice that I turned to myself, always favouring breath focused meditation practices. Recently though I had an epiphany. I’d had some simple abdominal surgery involving a laparoscopy where I’d been pumped with air which had moved into my ribcage and made breathing difficult and painful. The evening of the surgery, I was tired, had abdominal pain from the surgery itself, was finding it hard to breathe due to the gas, and couldn’t find a way to sit or lie down that wasn’t painful. Frustrated I began to cry and the crying movement in my ribcage made the pain feel even more intense. For a moment I felt lost, I couldn’t fall back on any of my usual calming techniques and tools because they all involved focusing on the breath, lying or sitting, all things that were now painful and stimulating my stress response. As I felt my distress rising, I knew I needed to calm myself down but in that moment I didn’t know how to begin to sooth myself. Thankfully, instinct took over and I began to pace the room. After a couple of turns up and down I could feel myself calming down, beginning to focus on the sensation of my feet on the ground, the repetitive movement, my heart rate began to slow, I stopped crying and started to feel the self-soothing effects of the practice.
Walking meditation can take many forms, from the simple rhythmic pacing, tuning into the feeling of the feet making contact with the ground that helped me after the operation, to the more detailed sense of whole body experience while walking. You could choose to repeat a mantra while walking or focus purely on sensations. Below is a simple example practice you can try at home.
You can walk inside or outside, anywhere you can access enough distance to take a few uninterrupted steps, knowing you can always walk around things.
- Stand still for a moment and close your eyes.
- Feel the body’s posture, the feet on the ground, and any movement you experience through your body. Open your eyes. Choose which leg will be stepping first.
- As you lift the foot, feel the bottom of the foot lose contact with the ground.
- Moving it forward, observe the sensation of the foot coming back into contact with the ground. Repeat with the other foot.
- Walk slowly. When you need to mindfully turn around and continue.
- You could try incorporating a simple mantra to help you focus on your experience.
- As you lift the foot, think (or say), “Lift.”
- As you move the foot forward, think, “Move.”
- As you place the foot down, think, “Place.”
- This is both a mindfulness practice and a practice in cultivating concentration. When the mind wanders, come back to the feeling in your feet.
When you are done with the period of practice, stand still for a few moments and notice how you feel.
Let me know how you get on.
Keep taking good care of yourself, Clair.