Many meditative practices, such as 'setting-up mindfulness directed toward the breath', are practised while sitting. However, walking meditation is commonly alternated with sitting as a formal posture. Apart from providing an active focus, it can be a method to energise the practice and counteract the hindrance of sloth and torpor, or direct excessive energy.
Due to the active and external nature of this posture there is a higher chance of becoming distracted by the environment you are practising in. For this reason an area to walk up and down of about twenty paces, or a clear path between two trees is recommended. Alternatively you may wish to walk around a large room, or large object - like a Stupa or tree – in circumambulation.
The pace of this practice should not be overly slow or fast, rather a normal unhurried pace – one which is slightly slower than your normal everyday pace, yet not forced. The speed of this practice is not fixed and can be adjusted to suit the needs of the session - a faster pace when drowsy, and gentle when restless and impatient.
The object of attention during walking practice is the feet touching the ground, and the spaces between each step. This will include the movements of the legs as well as the rest of the body in its widest focus of one's attention. However there are alternative focuses such as the breath, or a mantra which is described later.
Paying attention to the physical activity of walking.
- Stand upright with your feet together and your hands either on your stomach or behind your back at one end of the path. One hand should support the other at the wrist – not linking the fingers – so that the arms can relax.
- Bring your awareness to the body, focusing your attention on the sensations of touch and pressure in your body where it makes contact with the floor, or any pressure on the joints. Spend a few moments exploring these sensations, and then direct your attention to the posture. Notice how the body naturally tries to distribute its weight and pay attention for any tension & excessive balancing movements being caused by poor posture, and uneven balance, straightening and adjusting the posture to ease any discomfort.
- Gently focus your eyes to the floor at a point about three meters in front of you, or so that when you are walking your feet are just out of the visual range. This will help avoid visual distraction.
- Start to walk in a measured and normal manner to the end of the path. Stop and focus on the body again for several breaths before turning around, and walking back again.
- While walking, be aware of the general flow of physical movements, or more closely direct your focus to the feet.
- At some point the mind will stray away from its focus to thoughts, moods, planning, daydreams, or external stimuli. This is just what the mind does daily, simply following its normal routine, not that you are doing anything wrong or proof one cannot meditate. When you notice that your focus has not been on the breath this is being clearly aware & a sign of engaging in the practice of being fully aware of the present moment! You should stop walking and ground yourself – as done at the beginning and end of the path – and know what state the mind has been in, then continue the walking practice. No-matter how often you notice the mind wandering off, simply keep bringing it back to the object.
- As best you can, bring qualities of friendliness, joy, care, & balance to your awareness, perhaps seeing the repeated wanderings of the mind as opportunities to develop patience, effort, and curiosity to what is going on.
- While focusing upon the steps if you notice any unusual tension stop for a moment and spend some time relaxing the subtle movements of the body - such as any twitching, itches, tension or aches & pains - scanning where these tensions are, relaxing the area and exploring it fully with curiosity. Mentally say “calm,” “relax,” or another calming word to strengthen the intention to calm the area, and maybe imagining the breath going through this area healing and dissipating the tension. Once you have observed the area review previous places where there was tension and see if there has developed any residue tension in the general location.
- You may wish to assist your focus by mentally counting the steps to begin with. Each right & left (Roman/Geometric pace) count as a full step (here), so counting at each right & left step “one (one)” “two (two)” “three (three)” up to the end of the path then back down to “one.” Another method to use is to mentally note each step “right” for the right step and “left” for the left step. Alternatively substituting “rise” & “fall” for “right” & “left”. One could also do a more military style marching.
If you use walking meditation to direct excessive physical energy – such as aggression – it is best to walk in a purposeful manner. Walking in a slow and deliberate way, paying attention to the subtle nuances of walking. Pay attention to the role of the foot as it adjusts to the forwards direction; the lifting; moving across; lowering; and back to the role.
Walking meditation is a common practice in Buddhism and can at least trace its origins back to the origins of the Sangha.
Make sure to pay attention to where you are going, especially if you are using this practice in daily life so are in a crowded area, or traffic....
1 A single step or stride i.e., the distance from the heel of one foot to the heel of the other.
2 I use “right & left” as the foot I use to start walking with is my right foot. This starting foot is sometimes called the power foot.
However, this does not indicate that you should only start with your right foot.