Being aware of the body
In walking meditation we begin by being aware of the body. Body awareness is the first “foundation of mindfulness.”
It’s useful to begin any meditation session (whether seated or walking) by paying attention to those parts of the body that are in contact with the ground. This helps to stabilize and ground the mind, making it calmer and less likely to wander.
So in this practice I usually start with becoming aware of my feet – first standing, and then walking.
Then I lead my awareness systematically through my body, relaxing each part of my body as I bring in into the center of my focus. It’s important to remember to experience these sensations, rather than think about them.
Thinking about sensations keeps us trapped in our heads, and perpetuates patterns of anxiety, craving, etc. By simply experiencing our sensations, on the other hand, we help to cut down on unproductive thinking and bring about more calmness.
This distinction between experiencing something and thinking about it is not at all obvious to some people. To experience something — like the sensation of your feet touching the ground — is simply to be aware of it, to notice it. Thinking about something is where we have inner talk, like “I wonder if this is what I’m supposed to be feeling? Oh, there’s an itch. Maybe I should scratch it? Why am I doing this anyway? I think I’ll have pizza for dinner.”
So the aim is simply to notice physical sensations. Thoughts may arise when we do this, but this is “thinking about” and it’s not what we aim to do, and so we just let the thoughts go. We simply return to the physical sensations, and as we persistently do that we find that the amount of thinking we do dies down.
Remember to relax each part of your body as you become conscious of it. This practice is a wonderful opportunity to practice letting go. You can really notice how your walk changes as you relax.
Compared to sitting meditation, you may find that it’s far easier to be aware of your body while walking. A lot of people find that being aware of their bodies is much easier when their muscles and skin etc. are in motion. This can make walking meditation into a very powerful and intense practice. Most of us live rather too much “in our heads,” and when we find a way to bring our awareness into our bodies it can be a positive relief and even a great pleasure.
It’s particularly interesting to become aware of the angle that you hold your head at. The angle of your head has a huge impact upon your experience. If your chin is tucked into your chest, and you’re looking at the ground in front of you, you’ll almost certainly find that you become caught up in a very cyclical pattern of emotion. If your chin is in the air, you’ll probably find that you’re either caught up in thoughts or in the outside world. We’ll look at this again in the section on “balancing inner and outer.”