There’s some truth to the song lyrics “nobody walks in LA,” but I actually love to walk in this city. And everywhere else I travel. It’s a fantastic way to fully experience your surroundings while getting you to wherever it is you’re going. I wrote awhile ago about how much I love running as a way to explore areas, but I wanted to touch on walking today because I think that’s a less intimidating form of movement for many.
Less intimidating because unless you have physical limitations, you already walk from time to time. It’s healthy for you to get your step count in. It gives you freedom.
But we don’t often pay much attention to our walking experience. I mean, we’ve been doing it since the age of one so it’s as natural as breathing.
I certainly hadn’t paid much attention to my walking until I had to as a part of my professional mindfulness training. But it wasn’t until I had to actually relearn how to walk that I fully experienced what it was to walk mindfully.
After several months on crutches for a knee injury, I found myself in physical therapy with no muscle memory (or much muscle) of how to put one foot in front of the other. It was NOT like riding a bike. I had to pay such close attention to how I was making every part of my body move in order to take a single step so hopefully I could remember how to do it the next step. This took weeks. Which was frustrating. But also an incredibly cool experience because how often do you get the opportunity to learn how to do something you don’t remember learning as a baby? This gave me a newfound appreciation for walking and walking meditation.
I also like walking meditations because for people who have difficulty sitting still and concentrating on their breath (The most well known form of meditation.), this is often an easier way to develop a meditation practice. So how do you do it?
Find that sweet spot
It doesn’t matter where, although it’s ideal if it’s somewhere private and peaceful. Privacy can be important because mindful walking is typically done at a much slower pace than regular walking and can look funny to people who aren’t familiar with it. As a beginner it’s usually easier to practice meditation when you don’t have to worry about anything getting in the way, but if there’s noise or other disturbances, those can become a part of the experience.
Set a time
You can walk for as long as you want. I’d suggest a minimum of 10 minutes so you have enough time to really experience it.
Traditionally, mindful walking consists of taking 10-15 steps along a lane you’ve chosen. Then you pause and breathe for however long you’d like. And then when you’re ready, you turn around and walk back in the opposite direction along that same lane for 10-15 steps. You pause and breathe again, then turn around and continue that process over and over. This way you aren’t as easily distracted by the sights around you since you’re seeing the same thing over and over. But you can walk around the block or farther as long as you’re following the meditation. I most often practice meditative walking when I’m already out walking rather than a more formal practice.
Observe your steps
The difference between walking in meditation and simply walking is the awareness and intention. During a walking meditation you’re deliberately thinking about the combination of actions you normally do automatically. So you want to notice:
the lifting of one foot
the moving of the foot a bit forward of where you’re standing
the placing of the foot on the ground, heal first
the shifting of the weight of the body onto the forward leg as the back heel lifts, while the toes of that foot remain touching the floor or the ground
Then the lifting of your back foot totally off the ground
the back foot swinging forward and lowering
the back foot making contact with the ground, heel first
feeling the weight shift onto that foot as the body moves forward
Over and over and over. This may feel awkward or silly at first, but that’s just because you aren’t used to walking in this way.
Focus your attention
As you walk, try to also focus your attention on one or more sensations that you wouldn’t normally pay much attention to. This could be your breath moving in and out of your body, the movement of your feet and legs or their contact with the ground or floor, the movement of your hands and arms as you walk, your head balanced on your neck and shoulders, sounds nearby or those caused by the movement of your body, or whatever your eyes focus on. Your attention will move back and forth between the actual physical act of stepping and all the other sensations you experience.
And that is it. You’re meditating! It can be weird at first because it’s new and different, but the more you practice, even for short periods of time, the more natural it will feel. Also, you can bring this same kind of mindfulness to faster walking, running, and all other forms of physical movement. This presence brings a different level of awareness to everyday activities that make them all the sweeter to do.