Walking meditation is a meditative practice that involves slow, purposeful walking.
Its goal is to bring the mind and body into synchronization, evoking mindful awareness of what is normally a simple, everyday action.
This roots the mind in the present moment, in a similar way to a breathing meditation. It also connects us with nature and our surroundings.
Walking meditation has its roots in Buddhism (kinhin), and was traditionally designed to break up long periods of seated meditation.
How to Practice Walking Meditation
You can practice walking meditation at any time of day: before or after meditation practice, or after a stressful day at work.
It is not done in a fast, brisk manner; rather at a slow, steady pace.
The goal is to let go of your attachment to the past and thoughts of the present, to judgments of self and others, to negative feelings and attachments to the material world.
Walking purposefully in this way helps focus our attention in the now. Thoughts of “I must do…” dissipate, as we focus solely on the next step.
This embodies a life lesson: all we have to do in life is keep moving forward and putting one foot in front of the other.
As with seated meditation, your attention will wander many times while you walk. Don't try to force yourself to be present. Instead, acknowledge the wandering for what it is and return your attention back to your feet and the walking.
Buddhist walking meditation was effective in reducing depression, improving functional fitness and vascular reactivity, and appears to confer greater overall improvements than the traditional walking program (1).
A 3-Step Walking Meditation
In his book, Mindfulness Exercises, Alfred James presents an exercise called ‘Pacing the Square of Reality’.
This is a walking meditation that involves setting a mental boundary in a fairly confined space.
This can be practiced outside in a park or in your garden, or if you have the space, in a room in your home.
With permission, we have used the walking meditation extract from the book and published it below for you to follow.
Pacing the Square of Reality
Using a controlled walking meditation, we are forced to remain at peace with ourselves in a confined space. We come face-to-face with the perpetuity of the moment.
In the repetitive motion of our steps, we are given the space to see the fruitless nature of the grasping mind.
We are forced to turn the search inwards and question the narrator, to let go of the memories and expectations clouding our consciousness and come home to what is real.
We all feel the occasional compulsion to pace up and down, usually when mulling over a decision, or as a way to calm our frustration or temper our disappointment.
But this type of pacing is different to the exercise we are about to explore. When frustrated or undecided, we tend to pace too hard. This serves only to make us more anxious and stressed.
In this exercise, you will learn how to use the concept of pacing to slow the world down and see its naked reality. It will help you empty your mind and root yourself in the present moment.
Each step in this exercise represents a moment in time, which in turn represents life – a series of interdependent moments that when seen in their nakedness, transpire as one perpetual, never-ending moment.
In this realization, the illusion of time fades away and the essence of what it means to be present reveals itself in all its glory.
This exercise can be practiced in any place where you have an unobstructed area that allows you to walk for a few meters in each direction.
First, create a boundary on the floor. A tiled floor (or floor that has other notable markings) is preferable because you’ll be able to visually create a boundary.
You can lay markers down if the floor lacks visual markings. The square you pace should be no bigger than four meters on each side.
Take off your shoes and socks, and make sure you are wearing comfortable (preferably loose) clothing. Put your phone on silent, and where possible eliminate other potential distractions.
If you’re at home or at work, let those likely to interrupt know that you need to remain undisturbed for the next ten minutes.
Once you have mapped out your square, begin slowly pacing its perimeter using small, slow, controlled steps. Look down at the floor and keep your eyes focused just in front of your feet.
Don’t worry if you don’t have markings on the floor to follow, simply feel your way through the exercise and create an imaginary perimeter to follow.
Keep pacing for as long as you feel engaged. There is absolutely no goal to your movement. There is nothing you should be thinking or feeling other than what naturally enters your mental space.
Let thoughts come and go as they please, and allow tension, stress and anxiety to fall away from your being as you gently and calmly take each step.
Let negative emotions dissolve in the beauty that nothing matters except walking this square in this moment.
All you have to do is focus on slowly pacing the perimeter of your square. Whether imaginary or visually apparent, do your best not to stray outside or inside of the square.
On the face of it, this exercise seems somewhat pointless. I mean, why walk slowly around a square for ten minutes or more – is that not a waste of time?
But once practiced, you’ll understand that the action itself quickly becomes insignificant.
The repetition and purposeful attention to the task is merely the vehicle to a higher consciousness and deeper awareness of self that brings the mind into a state of stillness in the present.
Learning to be attentive to this small square, and carefully observing every single small step along the boundary, will lead you to a profound self-harmony. This will enable you to fully engage with the easily-missed wonders of everyday life.
A Few Additional Considerations
Don't expect to jump straight in and enjoy ten or more minutes. You may find that on the first few tries you become so distracted after a few minutes that you don't want to continue.
This is quite normal and you shouldn't resist the urge to stop when you feel ready to do so.
Most of us can't go five minutes without checking our phones or mulling over our mental to-do list. So start with a few minutes and increase the length of your practice a little each time.
Turn off your phone
Even if you can't see your phone, if it is in your pocket you will be aware of its presence. You will anticipate it ringing or sounding an alert at any moment.
It's best to leave your phone elsewhere, away from your practice. If you want to use it as a timer, turn off the data and WIFI settings so that you can't receive alerts.
Use the square boundary
Using the mental boundary of the square (suggested above) will help you access a meditate state quicker.
If you keep walking and walking, without a boundary, you will remain constantly aware of obstacles like roads, bumps in the pavement, trees, other people, etc.
The square technique enables you to let go of these distractions and not have to be conscious of every potential hazard.
Try using meditation music
You might choose to do your walking meditation with the aid of meditation music.
The correct music can help speed up the amount of time it takes to access the calm, connected stillness that arises with meditation.
Relaxing music can slow brainwave activity and shift the brain into a state more conducive to meditation.
Whether you want to do your walking meditation at home, in the park, or in an urban setting, we have various tracks suited to relaxing your mind and connecting you with the present moment.
Walking meditation is a wonderful alternative to traditional seated meditation, particularly for those who just can't sit still.
In a way it is meditation and exercise combined, which is important considering how much time we spend sitting.
It is a way to cultivate mindfulness, to let go of stress, anxiety, and worry. It helps us step into the present moment and find mental clarity.
The benefits will manifest in you feeling calmer, less anxious, more content, and being able to think more clearly, which ultimately leads to better decision-making.
In turn, this positively affects our personal relationships and the interactions we have with the world.
It’s incredible how different we feel when we pay attention to what’s going on around us instead of what’s swirling in our head.