“The living moment is everything.” – D.H. Lawrence
Most of us spend a considerable amount of time walking – to and from appointments, errands, or meetings and walking for enjoyment or exercise. Since walking is a relatively simple activity that we engage in on a regular basis, it is a wonderful opportunity to integrate mindfulness into your normal routine.
Mindfulness Exercise: Walking Meditation
The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook has some excellent guidelines for how to practice walking meditation:
Stand and relax your abdominal muscles
Take in a few deep belly breaths and draw your attention towards the sensation of your abdomen rising and falling with each breath. Begin walking, continuing to be mindful of your deep belly breaths. It is helpful for some to repeat the word “in” with each inhalation and “out” with each exhalation. This is also a useful trick for keeping your focus on your breath rather than your internal thoughts and emotional processes.
Allow one foot to touch the ground at the beginning of each in and out breath
Try to avoid forcing your breathing too much. Actively notice how many steps it takes to feel a natural coordination between your breath and your gait.
When thoughts or images disrupt your focus, simply notice
Thoughts, emotions, and images naturally arise in the mind. As you experience these occurrences – pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral – refrain from judgment and simply notice their presence. Once they have been observed, return your focus to your breath.
Actively attend to the physical sensations of walking
Be aware of the physical sensations in your feet and legs as they propel you forward, as they crunch on the ground beneath you, and as your muscles gradually fatigue from walking. Notice the sensations of your weight shifting from one side to the other, of which spot of your foot touches the ground first, and the feelings in your joints as they bend and straighten. If thoughts or feelings enter your awareness that begin to take your focus away from the present moment and present sensations, make a mental note of this and non-judgmentally shift your attention back to your breath and your movement.
Try counting your steps in time with your breath as you walk
If you notice that you tend to take four steps during each inhale and each exhale, consciously say to yourself, “In … two … three … four. Out … two … three … four.” If your breath or pace changes, just readjust your counting to match your natural breath and pace of walking. The idea is to continually bring your attention back to the present moment.
If the idea of walking meditation is new to you or if you notice yourself having any judgmental thoughts about whether this may or may not be helpful to you, simply notice whatever thoughts or feelings arise. Try not to be tempted to rush to judgment about an activity that may be new. Part of adopting a mindful state of mind/being involves the willingness to adopt an open and curious stance toward our unfolding experience. The next time that you feel particularly stressed as you rush about from one place to another, try thinking of that as an opportunity to practice walking meditation.
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Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R., & McKay, M. (2008). The relaxation and stress reduction workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Featured image: winter friends by AlicePopkorn / CC BY 2.0