Take a Hike!
The Buddha explained that whether we are standing, sitting, walking, or reclining – we should develop mindfulness. In another post, I explained that developing mindfulness (or sati) means developing a full awareness of the present moment – an awareness of our own thoughts, actions or motivations.
When it comes to utilizing the practice of walking meditation, there are actually five benefits which can be derived by walking up and down (or in some cases in a circumambulation around) a prescribed path. First of all, the more you walk – the longer you will be able to walk because you will have more stamina and will thus not tire as easily.
This is because, secondly, walking is an overall endurance exercise – it strengthens the heart and even the bones, it helps the lungs work more efficiently, etc. Therefore, we’re able to prevent disease easier. We can properly digest things with more ease. Also, the composure and concentration that is attained by practicing walking meditation regularly is pretty long-lasting.
One of the best advantages of walking meditation is that it can be practiced whenever we are walking. It’s also a great compliment to sitting meditation, because sometimes its good to get up and stretch your legs if you’ve been sitting for a while. However, it can also be done as a stand-alone meditation practice in its own right. In sitting meditation, we develop mindfulness while the body is at rest. With walking meditation, we develop mindfulness while the body is active. This is why Ven. Pannyavaro refers to walking meditation as meditation in action.
He goes on to explain a technique one can use as walking meditation practice:
“Establish your attentiveness by first noting the standing posture and the touch sensations of the feet at the start of the walking track. (You will need to find a walking path with a level surface from five to ten metres on which you walk back and forth). The arms should hang naturally with the hands lightly clasped in front. Allow the eyes to gaze at a point about two metres in front of you on the ground to avoid visual distractions. Then as you walk keep the attention on the sole of the foot, not on the leg or any other part of the body.
For the first five minutes you can note just three parts of the step: ‘lifting’, ‘pushing’, ‘dropping’. Then mentally note or label each step part by part building up the noting to its six component parts: ‘raising’, ‘lifting’, ‘pushing’, ‘dropping’, ‘touching’ and ‘pressing’ – concurrent with the actual experience of the movement.
While walking and noting the parts of the steps you will probably find the mind still thinking. Not to worry, keep focused on the noting of the steps if the thoughts are experienced just as ‘background thoughts’. However, it you find you have been walking ‘lost in thought’ you must stop and vigorously note the thinking as ‘thinking’, ‘thinking’, ‘thinking’. Then re-establish your attention on the movement and carry on. Also be careful that the mental noting does not become so mechanical that you lose the experience of the movement.
Try to do a minimum walking period of half an hour and build it up to a full hour. Strategically it is better to do a walking period before a sitting session as it brings balance into the practice. If you can alternate the walking and sitting sessions without any major breaks it will develop a continuity of awareness that naturally carries through into the awareness of your daily activities.”
In Zen Buddhism, a form of walking meditation is called kinhin. This typically involves walking clockwise around a room with the the hands in shashu (one hand closed in a fist, while the other hand covering the fist). Each step is taken for each full breath, so that the circle moves very slowly. Kinhin is also often done between long periods of seated meditation.
Walking up and down a prescribed path allows a break in the walking, so that if the mind easily wanders during meditation this “break” allows a “break” in the wandering mind as well. This “break” allows the mind to be a bit more easily brought back to and focused on the present moment. Walking in a circular pattern, therefore, allows for a more sustained mindfulness practice. So there are some obvious differences in the practices, but they still have their own benefits.
The following video gives a very basic walk-through for a simple walking meditation practice: