Friends tell me all the time that they like to go out for a “walking meditation.” My automatic reaction internal is this: “No, you’re not, but good for you.” Of course, I would never say this to someone unless asked but walking meditation is not the same thing as a walk outside.
One reason I would never offer this advice unsolicited in normal social circumstances is that I will never discourage anyone from (a) moving; or (b) getting outside. Taking a walk outside is awesome for you in every way. It’s good exercise and being outside is good for your mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In the right circumstances, a walk outside can slow the mind and elicit mindfulness and calm.
In short, walking meditation and a walk may overlap in some ways but they aren’t the same. The most prominent distinction is speed. With walking meditation, you don’t walk at your normal pace. You walk in slow motion. The point of walking meditation isn’t exercise or enjoying the scenery. Rather, much like with sitting meditation, the point of walking meditation is to cultivate mindfulness by focusing very closely on what you are doing.
If you have done a practice where you focused on your breath, I bet you noticed all sorts of things about breathing you had never noticed before. You may have noticed that a breath cycle affects various parts of your breath. You may have noticed that it feels kind of good. You may have noticed that you needed to learn to let yourself take deep, full breaths.
Walking meditation is similar. As you slow down the process of walking and pay attention to each step, you notice how much of your body is involved with walking. You’ll notice your feet on the floor. You’ll notice the push forward, lifting and rotation of your foot, and then landing it firmly on the group. As you do this, repeatedly, you’ll learn that it can settle your mind just like sitting meditation.
Now, you may be wondering why anyone would do this practice. To be sure, if you actually did walking meditation out in your neighborhood, your neighbors would probably come check on you to be sure you were okay. It looks funny and feels awkward.
The most likely place that you would experience walking meditation is on retreat and for a very practical reason: one cannot sit comfortably for hours on end. Many retreat centers will structure the program to include intervals of sitting and walking meditation to allow movement and keep the mind from becoming too dull.
The other great benefit of walking meditation, though, is that it can help you bring mindfulness into your life. Walking meditation may feel strange but it is a bridge between sitting meditation and real life. It encourages you to continue your mindfulness practice even as you move and go about your daily activities.
In addition, if you struggle with fidgeting during meditation or have pain associated with sitting for long periods, walking meditation may be a great alternative. My preferred way to use it at home is to do a few minutes of walking meditation to break up periods of sitting so that I can meditate for a longer period of time overall.
Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.
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