If you are one of the many people who really wishes to give meditation a go but finds sitting meditation really difficult, why not try walking meditation?
In fact, walking meditation can help with two of the five pillars of brain health which neuroscientists recommend (see 5 Factors to Boost Brain Health). Because it combines exercise and stress reduction through mindfulness in one activity. Particularly during the holiday season, you can take a walk down the beach, in the park, or go bush walking mindfully.
Before giving you the instructions, I would like to emphasise that meditation is a practice; there is no such a thing as a good or bad meditation. No need for right or wrong judgements. And most of all, do not expect your meditation practice to fix all your problems and make you a better person. While these might come by as side benefits, they are not the point of meditation. The point is just simply doing it; noticing that you do get distracted but are able to come back to the anchor of your concentration (e.g. your breath). Or that you can stay aware of whatever is arising in your consciousness without having to follow them.
You can think of meditation as practice before the match. In other words, through practicing mediation, we gradually develop our mindful awareness capacity. This, in turn would liberate us from most of our wandering thoughts, worries, and unhelpful feelings that typically arise amid the mayhem of the daily life. Research clearly demonstrates that mindfulness helps reduce stress and anxiety and boost our mental health. (See Science and Mindfulness).
You can do the walking meditation anywhere, as long as it is a safe environment without many obstacles. If the weather allows, it’s better to take a walk outside in the nature, if not you can simply walk back and forth indoors.
1Begin by walking at your usual pace, following your breath as you walk.
Simply gaze ahead of you, with your eyes lowered at about 45-degree angle, which means you can see few meters in front of you without being distracted.
Now simply notice your breathing as you walk.
In – and – down. Belly rises…
Up -and – out. Belly goes in…
Do this for a few minutes as you walk. If you get distracted; that’s fine, just come back to the noticing. Remember, no right or wrong here, no judgements.
2Coordinate your breathing and your walking.
A simple technique to help this coordination, is to take certain number of steps for each inhalation and exhalation. For instance, you can try three steps for inhalation and then three steps for exhalation. If you notice the three-step pace is too slow for you, you can experiment with taking four steps each on inhalation and exhalation. Find your optimum pace and stay with it each time you walk. For some people the the inhalation and exhalation lengths could be different, that is fine, you can vary the length accordingly. For instance four steps on inhalation and three on exhalation. Try variations to find the walk-and-breath pace that works for you and stay with it.
3In addition to your breathing, be aware of your feet and legs as you lift and move them.
After walking and noticing your breath for a few minutes, you can add to it the awareness of the sensations that are going on in your feet and legs. Notice the contact of your feet with the ground, notice the holding of your feet by your shoes and socks if you are wearing one.
By noticing, I mean directing your awareness to your feet and legs. Again, if you get distracted; which you most likely will; just notice the distraction and come back. Feel any sensations or absence of sensations in your feet and legs. The emptiness or absence of sensations is also fine. The point is not to necessarily sense something if there is none. Rather the point is again the awareness of the truth of the moment for you, which could be ‘I sense nothing really‘.
If you find it too complicated to follow your breathing and be aware of your feet at the same time, it is okay to choose one focus and stick with it. You can add the other focus in your future walking meditations as you develop your skills. It is more important to be relaxed, gentle and nonjudgmental with yourself as you walk.
4Continue enjoying your mindful walking for a minimum set time.
In the beginning, it would be helpful to set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes for your walking meditation. If you don’t have a timer, just decide a set distance you will be walking. This is helpful because the mind will definitely wander, judgements flow that I am not getting anywhere, this is not working, and so on; and you might discontinue. Setting a timer and continuing no matter what, will train the ‘monkey-mind’ to come back regardless of the perceived failures of being a ‘bad meditator’ and the like.
Later on you can do without a timer and enjoy your steady mindful walk for as long as you wish.