Welcome to this week’s wisdom for the Inner and Outer You.
Hello wisdom and adventure seekers! Officially it’s the first day of Spring here in Canada but looking outside you would never know that. Our landscape is all covered in snow and the temperature is still quite cold. However I know Spring is just around the corner now so I will enjoy the white carpet like ground cover for only a short time more before the grass begins to grow again…and I need to mow it two times a week!
A reminder that there will be a Morning Meditation session this Saturday March 23rd. I”m looking forward to seeing many of you there.
This week’s article is using walking for meditation. Something I have done a lot of and in many different places in the world. I hope you enjoy it and keep those comments coming please. Love you all, – Terry.
Walking as Meditation
By Terry Hodgkinson
For most people walking is merely an action that takes them from point A to point B. There can be a hundred or even a thousand thoughts that run through their mind before they reach their destination. Sometimes the thinking is so intense there is little to no conscious awareness placed on the walking itself. This is usually when someone trips, bumps into something or stubs their toe.
Come on, face it, most of us take walking for granted! It’s something we do every day and also something that we have been doing for a very long time. Do you know the day you appreciate walking the most? Usually the day you can’t walk for some reason, whether it is through a situation like being stuck on a long plane flight –yes I’ve had a few 26 hour flights myself- or due to injury or illness where you can’t walk. All of a sudden being able to walk seems like such a wonderful gift and all of a sudden you hadn’t really noticed how enjoyable it was before.
Wait a minute; you don’t actually have to hold off until something bad like this happens before you can fully enjoy the gift of walking and the feeling of ecstasy while doing so. Yes I said “ecstasy” and if you haven’t experienced this while walking, then you haven’t experienced “walking mindfully” also known as “walking meditation”.
In order to be mindful you have to be purposefully aware of yourself, not just vaguely or habitually aware. Knowing that you are walking is not the same as walking mindfully.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. His definition of mindfulness goes like this:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.”
Fitness experts say that if we want to be in good shape, then it’s best to plan on taking at least 10,000 steps a day. Most people who live a sedentary lifestyle would be lucky to take 3,000 and are probably more likely to get in only 1,000 steps a day. 10,000 steps doesn’t sound like much but it’s roughly equivalent to 7 kilometers or 5 miles. The reason I’m talking about walking and bettering your health is to show you the other benefits of using walking as meditation. Most people already know the benefits of meditation and how it’s an excellent practice for the mind and now you know that walking is just as good for the body, so talk about a marriage made in heaven! And still yet another advantage is at times of strong emotions or stress, walking meditation may be more relaxing than sitting.
When you first start practicing walking as meditation, it’s best to take small slow steps while maintaining your attention on each aspect of your movement. This aspect of meditation is not new; it has been practiced for thousands of years. Traditional Buddhist teachings identify four meditation postures: sitting, walking, standing and lying down. All four are valid means of cultivating a calm and clear mindfulness of the present moment. The most common meditation posture after sitting is walking. Many traditionalists will often say to keep your eyes cast down without looking at anything in particular and to keep the eyelids half closed. While I have practiced this way before, I don’t find it necessary for everyone.
The main aspect of using walking as a meditation is making sure your awareness is there. When I learnt sitting meditation, I was taught to place my attention on breathing in and out, making sure that my full awareness was present with every aspect of my breathing. With walking meditation I was taught to have my attention on my legs and feet. Here are a few other points I was told:
- To feel the sensations of each step.
- Feel the legs and feet tense as you lift the leg.
- Feel the movement of the leg as it swings through the air.
- Feel the contact of the foot with the ground.
- There is no “right” experience. Just see how the experience feels to me. Whenever I notice that the mind has wandered, bring it back to the sensations of the feet walking.
- Getting a sense of the rhythm of the steps may help maintain a continuity of awareness.
For me I have found that I enjoy a less formal manner of walking meditation. Just like other things you have practiced for a while you know when you’re doing it right or wrong. When riding a bike, you know when your balance is teetering and need to straighten out. When skiing you sense when your legs are out of position (too wide or too narrow) and you return them to their proper positions. When singing you can sense when you’re off tone and correct yourself. Okay if you know me then you know I just made that last one up in my case…my friends say I’m tone deaf! However I’m sure you get the idea of what I’m saying with these examples. With awareness you know when you’re doing it right or not. I’ve found with walking mediation it’s the same: you know when your attention is off your walking practice and so you gently bring it back.
There is a tremendous richness of experience to become aware of as you walk. After becoming proficient at maintaining awareness of your legs you can expand it to include what is happening around you in the environment. This is not an easy task but it is a worthy one. In the beginning it’s easy to have your attention get sucked into one or the other. You will find this out when you realize your attention is fully on what’s occurring around you and you no longer have awareness of the movement of your legs or vice versa.
A good habit before starting walking meditation is to spend a little time before hand being still, standing still and observing. Allow your awareness to be with your body. Take some deep breaths, inhaling deep into the belly. Put your full attention on the sensation of breathing. Do it for a minute or two, then allow your breath to return to normal and notice it; simply observe your normal breathing for the next minute. Next bring your awareness to your body, noticing how your body feels as you are standing, and becoming aware of all the sensations going on in your body. Now it’s time to walk with awareness.
If you are using the bench mark of 10,000 steps a day for fitness, then you might want to take a portion of that and allot it for walking meditation. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes worth. Sometimes if you are trying to get all your steps in and meditate at the same time, they can conflict, so it’s best to have a specific portion of your daily walking designated to meditation. There is no hard and fast rule here, you can do it at the beginning of the day or in the middle or at the end of the day, whatever you find works well for you. Of course the most important aspect is that you remember to do it however. You know from other articles I’ve written how I place a lot of value on the benefits of meditation.
I’ve been teaching people how to meditate for over 25 years now and I hear back from many of them over the years. It’s nice to hear how meditation in any form they choose to use it has positively impacted the quality of their life. This is why I’m a strong believer that meditation should be taught in schools from an early age. Starting to meditate at 8 years of age would give a child resources and tools in handling future challenges in ways that I only learned about at the age of 14. My heart goes out to people who are near the end of their life and who have suffered unimaginatively throughout because they never learned meditation. I’m not saying that meditation is the answer for everybody but over the years it’s done wonders for me and for the people I have taught it too.
I have had the great fortune of being able to travel to many parts of the world to learn various styles of meditation. For the last 10 months I’ve been teaching a meditation class at my office every other weekend. I usually teach 2 or 3 different methods of meditation over the 2 hour morning session. In the 10 months I have not taught the same meditation twice! That just goes to show how many different ways there are when it comes to meditating.
When it comes to walking meditation I try to combine it with a walk in nature. Perhaps in a forest or by a river, mountain or lake. I’ve also enjoyed walking in sacred areas such as, Ta Prohm or the Jungle Temples of Cambodia, or Bouddhanath Stupa in Katmandu Nepal or around the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, India. The same tree that Buddha sat under 2600 years ago and achieved enlightenment. However I’ve also done it down my street, at the office, even when walking in a shopping mall.
One time I taught a meditation course in a school that had been converted into a community centre. I had the 26 people who attended walk down the busy halls of the school slowly doing walking meditation. While at first they felt a little uncomfortable, after a few minutes having people around watching while they practiced walking meditation no longer bothered them. They came back with smiles on their faces eager to share their experience with the rest of the group.
So what are you waiting for? Why not give it a try. You may like it so much it could become a regular practice for you like it has for many others. How about this: there is nothing like taking action on a new idea while it’s fresh in your mind. So make a commitment that from the time you have read this article within 24 hours you will devote 10 minutes for a walking meditation. If you simply get it started, then you can be well on your way to a multitude of benefits that combining walking and meditation can provide. It doesn’t matter where you do it right now as it’s probably all new to you. So go ahead and do it in your home, backyard or anyplace that’s convenient for you to start. The most important thing of course is that you get started and do it! When you have done it a few times write to me and let me know about your experience. I always enjoy hearing from others and how they are doing with such a valuable exercise such as walking meditation.
Okay that’s all for this week. Happy walking!
“The mind can go in a thousand directions.
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh