Walking is an amazing form of exercise for many reasons. As a yoga instructor I use my yoga practice in my life, and not only on my mat. That’s what it’s for, after all. When it comes to meditation, which is one aspect of practicing yoga, you can approach it from many directions. Many people think of meditation as a monk sitting on a cushion off in the mountains somewhere. While that is one way to meditate, most of us can’t drop out of our lives to do that. Thankfully, there are many ways to meditate that offer you benefits and are completely doable. Walking as meditation and Walking Meditation are two ways to fit meditation into your busy life!
Walking as Meditation
Practicing meditation brings us into the present moment and focuses the mind on what is happening there. Walking is a repetitive motion that often doesn’t require much skill, so it frees up our mind to notice what is happening. As you walk, you can notice sensations in your body. Try to notice with curiosity, rather than judgment. If pain arises, can you notice the pain, what it feels like, without creating a story around it? It’s common to catastrophize, so if you notice yourself worrying that your hip pain means you need a hip replacement (it might, but it might not), see if you can pause your thoughts and tune back into your body. If you move differently or stretch, does that fix your pain? Does it make it worse? You are observing objectively to gain new information before jumping to the worst case scenario.
While you walk, can you notice what is around you? Notice sounds, smells, sensations, notice other people walking by you. Notice without creating stories, simply take in your surroundings. Feel your feet touching the ground. Observe the air on your skin. Feel the sun (or rain) on your head. It’s amazing how many things there are to notice in any one moment.
When you start to bring your awareness to the present moment, the chatter in your mind quiets. meditation is not about getting rid of the thoughts, simply giving them focus. When thoughts have nothing to anchor to, they can run amok. It’s amazing the things we tell ourselves, and even more amazing what we believe about what we tell ourselves! Teaching your mind to focus on what is actually happening gives you the skills to do that under stress. It’s a practice, like practicing an instrument. You wouldn’t play a violin recital without having practiced first; same with meditation. The more you practice, the easier it gets to let go of what is only happening in your mind, and connect to what is real and true in the moment.
Different from using walking as meditation, Walking Meditation has a different purpose. Walking is used for exercise and movement, Walking Meditation is a form of meditation that is less about movement and exercise. When you do walking meditation, you don’t need a lot of space. You can walk back and forth on your yoga mat, in your hallway, outside, really anywhere. Walking meditation is about noticing your foot placement on the ground, noticing your shift of weight from one foot the the next, noticing your breath. It’s similar to seated meditation in this way, you are noticing the present moment, but instead of being still, you are moving.
This is a “happy medium” between seated meditation and walking as meditation. If you have trouble sitting still but are trying to slow yourself down, this might be something you’d like to try.
Start standing and notice the sensation of your feet on the floor. If you can do this barefoot, even better, but shoes are fine too. Shift your weight onto your left foot and pause (the foot is arbitrary, choosing one makes it easier to write about). Feel most of your weight on your left foot with very little on your right. Notice if you struggle to balance, and let that be okay. It will get easier with practice. Reach your right heel forward and pause. Just touch the heel to the floor and feel that sensation. What is happening in your left leg as you do that. It can be helpful to keep the knees bent or slightly bent. Slowly press off your left foot and shift the weight to your right foot. Pause. Notice (without judgment) if you were able to transfer the weight smoothly with control or if it felt less controlled and more gravity induced. Simply make note.
Lift your left foot and extend the left heel forward and pause. Repeat this process. Once you get to the limit of your space, slowly turn in a different direction, or go back the way you came. Over time, it’s easier to shift the weight and your mind becomes calmer about it. You’ll struggle less the more you practice. You can always pause, in fact, I recommend that you do. Pause as frequently as you can and make your movements as intentional as possible.
At first it might be less “graceful” than you would like. Let that be okay. Over time, your balance will improve as will your ability to fall without self-criticism. Keeping your mind out of judgment is a key part of meditation. Notice how quick you are to criticize yourself and see if you can find more compassion and gentleness toward yourself. No one ever felt better or performed better from harsh criticism. Shame only makes you smaller and shuts you down.
If you find yourself falling frequently, take smaller steps, move at a pace that feels in control, and congratulate yourself for doing your best. We are not striving for perfect balance, we are simply noticing what is happening in the present moment. If you fall, you fall. If you stand, you stand. You are just as worthy as a human either way.
In general, meditation is a way to step back from the “swirl” of your mind and notice what’s there. It is also to notice without attachment to what’s there. It’s a way to understand your mind better, and notice that you are not the mind, you are not your thoughts, you are the noticer of the mind and the thoughts. The Witness. Why does this matter? When you notice your mind, you teach yourself to become less reactive and cause less harm to yourself and others with your thoughts and actions. Take a moment to read that sentence again.
How much harm to you cause to yourself with your thoughts? How much harm do you cause others with your actions? Meditation allows you to slow down and see what’s happening before diving into actions that cause regret. When you pause, you have time to decide, “is this worth acting on?” “Is this worth saying?” “Is what I am about to say kind or true or am I just pissed off?” Power is in the pause.
If seated meditation is not for you, hopefully you’ll play with both Walking as Meditation, and Walking Meditation. We all need to slow down sometimes. Notice how you feel when you do.
Join me Friday, May 5 at 10 ET for Mechanics of Walking! This live class is free in my Facebook Group and is part of my Core and Lower Back Master Class Weekend where we’ll dive into different aspects of having a strong core and lower back. Click here to learn more!
If you are local to Metrowest Massachusetts, join me for Yoga and Walking, a 2 hour in person workshop at Hopkinton State Park on Saturday, May 13th! We’ll go over the Mechanics of Walking, warm up with a simple yoga practice, then head out for a 3 mile walk through the woods. We’ll be doing Walking as Meditation with some stretching along the way and at end. Click here for more information or to sign up!
I teach Movement and Meditation online every Monday at 8am ET. Join me live or on demand! Movement and Meditation is a 40 minute class where we move and stretch our body, then sit for a guided meditation. My students think that this is the best way to start the week! Click here to check out this and all of my online classes!