In this article, I want to share the practical aspects of walking meditation. I will share with you how, where and when the practice of walking meditation is the most effective. In this article, you will find practical recommendations of walking meditation, as well as tips on how to form a quality mind that will lead to concentration, insight, and wisdom through physical activity in walking meditation.
Walking Meditation And Buddha
Buddha emphasized that mindfulness can be developed in four basic meditation postures: standing, sitting, lying, and walking. He encouraged us to be aware of these postures in order to form a clear awareness and remembrance of what we were doing while in one position or another.
The ancient Bodhi tree grows in the Indian village of Bodh Gaya. According to legend, it was under that tree that the Buddha attained enlightenment. Nearby you can see a path length of 17 steps. The Buddha used that path for his walking meditations.
In his teachings, the Buddha has repeatedly said that it is important to develop clarity of consciousness constantly, no matter what position your body is in: you sit or stand, lie or even walk – for the practice of meditation, you can and should use any moment. The lives of monks and nuns of the Buddha’s time show that many of them reached different levels of spiritual realization through meditation while walking.
Find Your Own Way
Some people find that they are particularly drawn to walking meditation because they find it easier and more natural than sitting meditation. When they sit down, they feel too lethargic or tense or easily get distracted. Their minds do not calm down. If the same thing happens in your case – do not persist. Try something else, like changing your posture. Do something different. Experiment with standing meditation or try walking meditation. This new posture during meditation can give you other skillful means of applying the mind. All four postures of meditation are simple techniques that you can use for the development and training of your consciousness.
Try and develop meditation while walking and you will be able to see its benefits.
In the forest meditation tradition of northeastern Thailand, monks put a special emphasis on walking meditations. Monks spend many hours walking to develop concentration. Sometimes ten or fifteen hours a day!
Ajahn Singtong spent so much time meditating while walking that he trampled a furrow in the meditation path. There was a hollow in the sandy path, for he walked many hours a day – sometimes fifteen or more!
The Five Benefits Of Walking Meditation
Buddha spoke of the five benefits of walking meditation. If you take them in the order in which they are considered in the suttas, it turns out that walking meditation:
- develops endurance when taking long walks;
- is good for diligence;
- good for health;
- it is good for digestion;
- promotes concentration that lasts for a long time.
Now let’s take a closer look at walking meditation benefits!
#1 Development of endurance
The first benefit of walking meditation is that it promotes endurance over long walking distances. This was especially important in Buddha’s time when most people traveled on foot. Buddha himself often traveled, moving from place to place. He, therefore, advised walking meditation as a method of developing physical fitness and endurance over long walking distances.
The forest monks still roam. They take the Cup, the robes, and wander in search of secluded places to meditate. As a preparation for the journey, they are constantly increasing the amount of meditation when walking, to develop, among other things, physical fitness and endurance. They increase the amount of such meditation to five or six hours a day.
#2 Development of diligence
During sitting meditation, many meditators are faced with the fact that every time they drown in calm states, they may become too “calm” and unconscious, which leads to sleep or even snoring. Time passes quickly in such a meditation, but they do not have any clarity or vigilance, although it feels peaceful. Without mindfulness and alertness, meditation can become dull.
If you are one of those who can fall asleep during meditation then you should consider practicing walking meditation. Walking back and forth, meditating, will help you to overcome drowsiness. You will not be able to fall asleep while you are walking!
#3 It’s Good for your health
Buddha said that walking meditation promotes good health. This is the third benefit.
We all know that walking is considered a good form of physical exercise. When we practice meditation while walking we are actually performing a physical and mental exercise. So walking can be good exercise and a way to develop the mind. But in order to get such benefits, it is necessary to bring awareness into the walking process, instead of just walking and letting the mind wander in thoughts and emotions.
#4 It’s good for digestion
The fourth benefit of walking meditation is that it is good for digestion. This is especially important for monks who eat just once a day. After eating, the blood rushes to the stomach and its outflow from the brain occurs. Therefore, you feel drowsy.
The forest monks emphasize that walking meditation should be practiced for several hours after eating, as walking back and forth promotes digestion.
When you have had a hearty lunch, instead of going to sleep, it is better to meditate for an hour while walking. This will help physical health and give a chance to develop the mind.
#5 Promotes prolonged concentration
The fifth advantage of walking meditation is that the concentration resulting from such meditation lasts for a long time.
When we practice sitting meditation, it is very easy to maintain the posture. All we need to do is just close our eyes and reject the stimuli that come through sight. We don’t bother with any bodily movements. Therefore, in comparison to walking meditation, sitting meditation is a much more refined posture in terms of the involved activity.
When we walk, we get a lot of sensory information. We look where we are going, so we get visual information, and we also get information because of body movement. Therefore, if we can focus the mind while walking and receiving all this sensory information, then when we change this posture to a more refined one, the concentration will be easier to hold.
In other words, when we sit down, the power of the mind and the power of this concentration easily flow into this refined posture. So, if you develop concentration only in a sitting position, when you get up and begin to perform bodily movements, such as walking, it is more difficult to maintain this state of concentration. This is because you go from the subtle to more physical. Therefore, walking meditation can help to develop strength and clarity of mind and concentration, which can make other, less active, meditation poses even better.
Preparation For Walking Meditation
Remember that walking is a stimulating posture, and initially, the mind will often wander. Beginners are best to start with shorter tracks. Fifteen steps would be enough. If you are going to do it outside, then find a secluded place where you will not be distracted and disturbed.
It would be great to find a track that is a little hidden. If you walk in an open space where there is a beautiful view, it can distract you – since your mind would be thinking about the view. The hidden territory is especially preferable for those who think too much. This will help you to calm your mind. If the path is hidden, it will help to direct the mind inward and calm down. Oppositely, if the path is open and provides a view then your mind will be directed outward which doesn’t match to meditation purposes.
Mind And Body Preparation
Once you have found a suitable place, stand at the beginning of the track. Straighten up. Place your right hand on your left palm in front of you. Do not walk with your hands folded behind your back because this posture represents a simple walk but not meditation!
The main purpose of walking meditation is to develop Samadhi which requires diligence. The Pali word “Samadhi” means focusing the mind, bringing it into a state of unidirectionality through the gradual development of the stages of awareness and concentration. To focus the mind, one must be diligent and determined.
First of all, it requires a certain degree of physical and mental concentration. You start by folding your hands in front of you. The concentration of the body promotes the concentration of the mind.
Thus, to establish a concentration of the body, one should stand up, establish awareness and mindfulness in relation to the body. Then you have to raise your hands together in Ajali (a gesture of respect). Close your eyes and focus your mind on the qualities of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.
After that, put your hands in front of you and establish a determination in your mind in terms of how much you are going to walk: half an hour, an hour or more. Go strictly as much as you decide. So you will train your mind in this initial stage of meditation with zeal, inspiration, and faith.
It is important to remember to look down (about 5 feet ahead of you) while performing walking meditation. Don’t look around. Maintain awareness on the sensation of your feet touching the ground. In this way, you will develop a more refined awareness, a clear knowledge of walking while performing walking meditation.
Mindfulness To Walking Posture
In this technique, while walking, you direct all your attention to your feet, to the sensations and feelings as they arise and disappear. Be aware of this feeling with your whole foot. As the foot rises again, note this new sensation in your mind. When you lift each foot and step forward, concentrate on the sensations that occur. With each new step, new sensations will be experienced, and the old ones will cease. All this should be realized. With each step a new sensation is experienced – this sensation arises and disappears; arises and disappears again.
In this method we direct attention to the sensation of walking itself as each step is taken. We should notice what type of sensations and feelings arises on your feet.
When we stand, we experience a sensation, a feeling, a contact with the ground. This contact can produce pain, heat, or other sensations. We direct our conscious attention to these sensations, fully cognizing them. When we lift the foot to take a step, the sensation changes as soon as the foot lifts off the ground. As you walk the feeling is constantly changing, new ones appear. We consciously note this emergence and disappearance of sensations as the foot lifts off the ground and touches it again. Thus, we keep full attention simply on the sensations arising when walking.
Have you ever paid attention to the sensations in the foot while walking?
They happen every time we walk, but usually, in life, we don’t notice these subtle things. When we walk, our mind wanders somewhere. Walking meditation is a way to simplify what we do when we do it. We affirm the mind in the here and now. We simplify everything, we calm the mind by simply knowing the emergence and disappearance of sensations.
How fast are you walking?
It is advised walking naturally, not too fast, not too slow. If you walk fast, you may find it very difficult to focus on the feelings that arise and fade. Maybe you need to slow down a bit. On the other hand, some people might be better off speeding up. Everyone is different. You need to find your own pace that would suit you. At first, you can walk slowly, and gradually move to a natural pace of walking.
If your awareness is weak (that is, your mind often wanders), walk very slowly until you can stay in the present moment with each step. Start by establishing awareness at the beginning of the track. When you get to the middle, ask yourself, ” Where is my mind? Does it know the sensation in my feet? Do I feel a touch here and now, in the present moment?”. If the mind has run away, bring it back to the sensation in the foot and continue walking.
When you reach the end, slowly turn around, re-establish awareness. Where is the mind? Does it know the sensation in your feet? As a rule, the mind rushes in search of thoughts of vanity, fear, happiness, sadness, anxiety, doubt, pleasure, disappointment, and so on. It wanders in a multitude of all the thoughts that can arise.
If awareness of the object of meditation is absent, then first set it again, and then start walking back. Establish the mind again on the simple knowledge of the act of walking, and then begin to walk back to the other end of the path. When you reach the middle, note: “I am in the middle of the path”. Then, when you reach the end of the track, note: “Where is the mind?”. This is how you go back and forth, being aware of the arising and disappearing sensations. As you walk, constantly reset your awareness, bringing the mind back, directing it inward, becoming aware, seeing sensations at every moment of their occurrence and disappearance.
As we maintain awareness of the sensations and feelings in our feet, we will notice that the mind has become less distracted. The mind will be less and less inclined to external things happening around us. We will become calmer. The mind will calm down as it is established.
When your mind calms down, you will want the movements to stop. Stop, stand still, let the mind experience this state of peace and quiet. If the mind has become very refined while walking, you may find that it is simply impossible to continue walking. Walking implies a willful decision to walk, and your mind is too focused on the object of meditation. Stop on the path and continue your meditation in a standing position. Meditation involves working with the mind, not with posture. A physical posture is simply a convenient tool that serves for perfecting the mind work.
Concentration And Calm
Concentration and calm go hand in hand with mindfulness. When the mind is calm in meditation, there will be a feeling of joy, delight, and bliss due to this calmness. The Buddha said that the bliss of peace is the greatest happiness and the concentrated mind experiences this peace.
This peace can be experienced in this very life. By developing the walking meditation practice we can integrate it into everyday life. For example, when we go to the store, from room to room, etc. we can use this active movement as meditation. We can be conscious of just the fact that we are going somewhere and the process of walking can be our walking meditation. When we are practicing walking meditation in our everyday life our minds become silent and calm. This is the way to develop concentration and peace in everyday life.
From Sitting Meditation To Walking Meditation
If during sitting meditation the mind becomes peaceful with the help of some object of meditation, then use the same object for your walking meditation.
However, in the case of some subtle objects of meditation, such as breathing, the mind must first acquire some degree of stability and calmness. If it is not calm yet, but you start walking, focusing on the breath, then it will be very difficult for you to perform a walking meditation, because the breath is a very subtle object. Therefore, it is better, to begin with, a coarser object – for example, with sensations and feelings arising in the feet.
There are many different objects of meditation that will help to move well from sitting to walking. For example, kindness, compassion, equanimity, etc. As you walk back and forth, develop the broadest thoughts based on kindness: “May all beings be happy. May all beings be at peace. May all beings be free from suffering.” You can use walking in addition to sitting meditation, developing the practice on the same object, but in a different position.
If during walking meditation you notice that you are falling into drowsiness, then you need to cheer up the mind, not calm it down. Use the mantra to make it more focused and alert. Quietly repeat the mantra to yourself. If the mind is still wandering, start saying the mantra very quickly, and start walking more quickly. As you walk, repeat the mantra. Thus, the mind will be able to focus quickly.
The Bottom Line
When you decide to perform walking meditation you need to remember that what matters is not how many hours we spent on meditation, but how good it was. If your mind wandered while walking back and forth, you were not meditating. It is the quality of the mind that matters, not the amount of meditation we do.
Every aspect of our lives is an opportunity for meditation. Meditation is not just sitting on a pillow. All the processes of life are opportunities for us to explore reality. We make an effort to know things as they really are, that is, to know that they arise and disappear.
In the forest tradition, when a meditation teacher comes to a monastery, almost the first place he goes is to check the monastic meditation paths to see how many footprints there are. If the paths are well-trodden, it is considered a sign of a good monastery. Let your spiritual path always be well-trodden!