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Traditional Walking Meditation

You will see it in monasteries and meditation centers; people walking slowly back and forth, paying complete attention to each step they take. This is traditional walking meditation, and though most forms have their roots in Buddhism, it is becoming a common practice for non-Buddhists as well. Sometimes it is done by itself, while other times it is combined with other postures and techniques, such as sitting or standing.

It is essentially a mindfulness exercise, since you are meant to watch all aspects of your body and mind as you walk. Some people have found that it helps them develop better concentration abilities, which in turn helps their sitting practice. You are also less likely to fall asleep or get drowsy when you meditate in this way. If done frequently enough and in long enough sessions, it also will provide you with some of the same benefits you would get from any regular physical exercise. Let's look at how it is done.

To do a more traditional form of walking meditation properly, you will need some space that is open and level for at least thirty feet (about ten meters). This can be indoors or out, but if you hope to keep a regular schedule you will want a space that will be usable in any weather. A large enough carport or garage can work if you prefer to have fresh air while meditating.

Once you have your clear path of thirty feet or more you walk back and forth at a speed which feels comfortable and relaxing for you. Your pace may change as you continue, perhaps slowing down as your mind becomes calmer. Each time you come to the end of your path come to a complete stop, turn around, and walk the other way. Aim your eyes downward, but without looking at anything in particular. Some meditators find that it helps them to keep their eyes half-closed, but this isn't necessary if it doesn't come to you naturally.

As you walk, let your attention stay with your body and the process. With sitting practices you typically bring your attention to the in and out of each breath; with walking you focus on the left and right steps as you walk. This is a way to be more mindful, which is to say, more in the present moment. Feel the legs lifting and moving in their rhythm. Feel the contact with the ground (it can help to wear light slippers or nothing at all on the feet).

There is no sensation in particular that you are aiming for; just pay attention to the process of walking and bring attention back to it when your mind wanders. Do this for about twenty minutes or at least until your mind has calmed and slowed down a bit. You can follow it with a sitting session if you wish.

Mind and Meditation

Notes and Tips

Some people find that when string emotions arise it helps to stop and resolve them. You might just need to fully recognize where the feeling came from and, if it isn't something that you can resolve now, mentally "schedule" some time to think about it later. Once you have calmed your mind a bit in this way you would begin to walk again.

"Labeling," a technique used in other forms of meditation, can be used here as well. If you are walking slowly enough you can say "lifting" and then "placing" as you go through the motions. This can aid in concentration. Labeling of feelings or thoughts that arise can help you get past them. You might say in your mind "old memory," or "pain in shoulder" or whatever describes what is going on in your head, and then return attention to the walking.

A clear path is best, so if you do use an outdoor space, clear the path you will be walking on of any possible obstructions. It is too distracting to have things to step over or around. Also, indoors or not, if there is no natural beginning or end to your path, mark these at about forty feet apart, perhaps with chalk or something placed on the ground.

A circle has been used by some for a path, but whether it will work for you is a matter determined only by experiment. Some people find that they need the stop and start at each end to help them catch their wandering mind and bring attention back to the process.

At least one meditator has found it helpful to his state of mind to think of the process as his body taking him for a walk.

Walking Meditation Alternatives

You can experiment with other forms of walking and meditating, to see if there is a way that works better for you. Some people find that it helps to do it with others, for example, while others have the best results when alone.

Perhaps the most significant alternative to be developed in recent years is to walk while listening to a brainwave entrainment recording. Portable CD players worked for this in the past, but the MP3 players available now are much lighter and almost immune to skipping of any sort. The recordings use beats and pulses to entrain your brain waves and so take you into a meditative state.

Here is one source of these downloads for MP3s (they also have CDs): Meditation Recordings.

You also might want to consider a completely different kind of walking meditation, which involves long walks in a more varied terrain, while listening to brainwave entrainment recordings. You can read about that on this page: Walking Meditation Using Brainwave Entrainment.

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