Walking meditation is a very common form of meditation practice, and has the advantage that it can be done anytime we’re walking.
It’s sometimes used as a way to break up periods of sitting meditation, giving the body a rest, but is frequently done as a meditation practice in its own right.
There are different kinds of walking meditation. The form I’m teaching here might be better described as “mindful walking.” It can be done anywhere. You can walk mindfully to the bus stop or train station, or to your car. You can walk mindfully upstairs in your house, or down the street. You can walk mindfully in the park. It can be done for any length of time — 10 seconds or an hour — however long you happen to be walking or want to walk for.
Jump to a section:
- Walking meditation recording and free download
- The benefits of and background to walking meditation
- What is walking meditation?
- Why walking meditation?
- How to do walking meditation
- Learning the practice a little at a time
- Making the practice your own
- Walking with love
- A video introduction to walking meditation
You can listen to this guided meditation (which is from one of my books) on YouTube. If listening to YouTube on your phone isn’t feasible, there’s a link below where you can download the recording as an MP3 file.
The Buddha described five benefits from walking meditation:
- You get fit for traveling about
- You’re better able to meditate
- You become healthy
- What you eat, drink, chew, and taste is properly digested
- Immersion (samadhi) gained while walking lasts for a long time
Anything we do can become meditative, including eating, driving, washing, cleaning the house, and, of course, walking.
Historically, Buddhist monks in India would make walking an important part of their daily practice, remaining mindful as they walked around performing the daily tasks of life such as fetching water or going to the bathroom, as well as when on the alms round as they begged for food by going from door to door, and as they simply walked from one place to another as they crossed the country. It was natural for them to make the simple act of walking into an opportunity to develop mindfulness and loving-kindness.
Walking meditation also became a scheduled activity in which practitioners would walk up and down (or in some cases around a circular course) for a given period of time, just as they would have fixed periods of sitting meditation. Periods of walking meditation help the body to remain at ease and to recover from any tension that builds up due to repeated inactivity. But it’s also an opportunity to experience the body in action. In sitting meditation the body is still, while in walking meditation we can pay attention to the stronger and more easily observed sensations of the body as it moves.
There are many forms of walking meditation, and I’ve done two different kinds taken from Zen traditions and one from Theravadin Buddhism. The form I’m going to teach here has the advantage that it doesn’t require that you walk particularly slowly, meaning that you can do it while walking in a park or even in your local high street without drawing attention to yourself.
Walking meditation is perhaps the form of meditation that’s most amenable to the on-the-go modern lifestyle. Many people find it hard to set aside time to sit, but just about everyone does some walking, even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store. And since most of us don’t get enough exercise, walking meditation gives us the opportunity to keep both the body and mind healthy.
I know people whose minds are so restless that they have difficulty sitting for even a few minutes, but who find mindful walking to be much easier. And there have been times when I’ve felt very agitated and found that walking mindfully has helped to calm my mind down.
Walking meditation can be a lot of fun. It helps us to enjoy the experience of having a body, and can be very sensuous and immensely pleasurable.
Walking meditation is a form of meditation in action.
In walking meditation we use the experience of walking as our focus. We become mindful of our experience while walking. We become aware of the movements of the body and the physical sensations they give rise to. We become aware of our external senses of vision, hearing, touch, and so on. We become aware of our feelings, and of any thoughts that arise. As in other forms of meditation, we aim to disengage from thinking whenever we become distracted and to keep returning to our immediate sensory experience.
Obviously, there are some differences between walking meditation and sitting meditation. For one thing we keep our eyes open during walking meditation. That difference implies other changes in the way we do the practice. We are not withdrawing our attention from the outside world to the same extent that we do when we are doing the Mindfulness of Breathing or Metta Bhavana (development of lovingkindness) practices.
We need to be aware of things outside of ourselves (objects we might trip over, other people that we might walk into) and there are many other things outside of ourselves that we will be more aware of than when we are doing sitting – especially if we sit inside. These include the wind, the sun, and the rain; and the sounds of nature and of humans and machines.
But one of the biggest differences is that it’s easier, for most people, to be more intensely and more easily aware of their bodies while doing walking meditation compared to sitting forms of practice. When your body is in motion, it is generally easier to be aware of it compared to when you are sitting still. When we’re sitting still in meditation the sensations that arise in the body are much more subtle and harder to pay attention to than those that arise while we’re walking, This can make walking meditation an intense experience. You can experience your body very intensely, and you can also find intense enjoyment from this practice.
The practice of walking meditation can also be fitted in to the gaps in our lives quite easily. Even walking from the car into the supermarket can be an opportunity for a minute’s walking meditation.
The form of walking meditation we’ll be introducing here is best done outdoors. For your first attempt, you might want to find a park or open space where you will be able to walk for twenty minutes without encountering traffic.
Some students have a sneaking suspicion that walking meditation is not really meditation at all, or that it’s perhaps a sort of watered down meditation. I think these suspicions are unfounded, and are probably based on the misconception that in order to do meditation you have to be sitting still.
This is probably a very similar misconception to the idea that you can only really meditate well in full lotus position. Both misconceptions are trying to define meditation in terms of what is happening outwardly, rather than in terms of what you are doing internally. Meditation is a process of developing greater awareness so that we can make changes to our consciousness so that we can be more deeply fulfilled, and have a greater understanding of life. It’s essentially an inner activity.
This might seem to be somewhat contradictory to all of the emphasis to have placed on having a good posture in meditation. But in emphasizing a good posture, all I am doing is encouraging you to set up the best possible conditions for developing greater awareness in order to achieve our desired goals of greater awareness, deeper fulfillment, and greater understanding.
Walking meditation is meditation in action. When we do walking meditation, we are using the physical, mental, and emotional experiences of walking as the basis of developing greater awareness.
Walking meditation is an excellent way of developing our ability to take awareness into our ordinary lives. Any able-bodied person under normal circumstances does at least some walking everyday – even if it’s just walking from the house to the car, and the car to the office. Walking meditation is an excellent way to squeeze more meditation into the day — you can do it anytime you’re walking. Once we have learned how to do walking meditation, each spell of walking – however short – can be used as a meditation practice.
The great thing about walking meditation is that you can do it anytime you are walking — even in the noise and bustle of a big city. In fact it’s especially good (even necessary) to do it in a big city, with all the distractions of people and noise, and shop windows tying to catch your attention. When I used to walk through the city center in Glasgow, Scotland, I often used to practice walking meditation. At first, it would be very difficult to keep my awareness involved with my walking. Artfully designed shop window displays and advertisements would be beckoning to me, and my eyes would involuntarily flick to the side as if afraid of missing anything. Attractive people would parade past, dressed in their most eye-catching clothes, and my neck would yearn to turn to squeeze every last moment of enjoyment out of the experience of seeing them. But soon, I began to feel increasingly comfortable keeping my eyes directed forwards.
I realized that there was a kind of battle going on. Advertisers and shop window designers were trying to capture some of my awareness, and I was trying to hold onto it. And when I began to realize that I was winning the battle, I would feel a surge of joy and exultation. I then realized that the normal state of distractedness in which I would normally walk down a busy street was deeply unsatisfactory. When your attention is constantly seeking satisfaction outside of yourself – through glancing at consumer goods or at attractive passers-by – then your internal experience becomes fragmented, as if you’re leaving parts of yourself strewn along the city streets. In this state of fragmentation, it is even harder to find sources of fulfillment within. This leads to a vicious cycle, where we feel increasingly hollow and fragmented as we seek fulfillment outside ourselves.
Practicing walking meditation is a way of “de-fragmenting” our minds. One of the literal meanings of the word “sati” (usually translated as “mindfulness”) is “recollection.” In practicing mindfulness we are “re-collecting” the fragmented parts of our psyches, and reintegrating them into a whole. As we become more whole, we become more contented and more fulfilled. This is one of the main benefits and aims of the practice of mindfulness.
Unlike many of the other practices described in this site, walking meditation has no formal stages.
But there is a logical sequence to the practice, and this sequence is rooted in a traditional formulation called “the four foundations of mindfulness.”
These are four levels of experience in which we can anchor our minds to prevent them from being fragmented and strewn around like leaves torn from a tree in an autumn gale.
These levels are:
- Physical sensations
- Mental and emotional states, and
- The direction of our experience
These four foundations don’t just give us a way of breaking down a very complex experience so that we can focus on one aspect at a time. They also give us a way to appreciate how the dynamic of our experience can function either to create suffering for ourselves or to free us from suffering.
We’ll look at each of these in foundations turn, and we’ll also look at how we start and end the practice. We start with the physical sensations of the body, which are relatively easy to experience (except when — as often happens — we get lost in thought and all but “forget” that we have a body). We then progress to more subtle aspects of our experience.
We begin walking meditation by not walking.
It’s good just to stand on the spot and experience yourself. Experience your body, and notice in particular all of the minute motions that take place in order to keep you balanced and upright.
Experience how you feel; notice whether your mind is overactive or calm. This will give you a sort of “baseline” of experience against which you can check what effect the practice is having on you.
We take walking for granted, but we probably take standing for granted even more. So just spend a minute or two appreciating your experience.
Standing really is pretty miraculous. It took our species millions of years to learn how to stand on two legs, and it took you a year or two to get the hang of it when you were a young child.
Often we don’t appreciate the simple things in life. Just noticing ourselves in a simple activity like standing starts to shift the mind to a different level, to a slower pace at which we have time to appreciate our experience and to experience greater enjoyment.
It’s not uncommon to experience boredom or resistance when we first take up a practice like this. We might think that it’s ridiculous to be devoting time to something as trivial as walking, or to standing still. But those emotions of boredom and those judgments we make — “it’s boring, this is a waste of time” — are themselves very interesting. Just noticing them is part of the “downshifting” that we’re engaged in.
And if we simply persevere with the practice then at some point, perhaps to our considerable surprise, we’ll find that we’re doing something that’s both fascinating and deeply enjoyable.
Standing meditation is in fact a valid meditation in its own right, but rather than explore that we’re going to continue with our exploration of walking.
In walking meditation we begin by being aware of the body. Bodily 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.”
The next “stage” of walking meditation is paying attention to feelings.
The word “feeling” has a specialized meaning in Buddhist meditation practice. In everyday speech, we use the feeling to refer to a number of different things. We might say, for example, that someone’s skin feels cold. Here we are referring to a physical sensation. We might also say that we feel angry – here referring to an emotion. By “feelings” in the context of Buddhist meditation practice we mean neither of these things.
The word feeling (vedana) refers to a basic sense of liking/disliking, or comfort/discomfort, or pleasure/displeasure (feelings can also be neutral, if you’re not sure whether you like or dislike something). These feelings are gut-level responses that are less developed than emotions like anger, or love, or joy, or sadness.
Feelings often stand between sensations and emotions. For example, you turn up in the office one day, and find that a co-worker is using a particularly pungent perfume that you don’t like. There is the sensation of the perfume itself. Then there is a gut-level response that you don’t like this particular smell (that’s the feeling), and then there is a variety of emotions that you might experience in response to that feeling; emotions such as anger, or compassion (on a good day).
We experience feelings in relation to just about every sensation we perceive, whether visual, or auditory, or tactile, or whatever. Particular colors have their own feeling tone — that’s why we have favorite colors: we like the feelings that those colors evoke. There are some sounds that we enjoy hearing (our favorite music) and some that we dislike (some other people’s music). There are also odors and tastes that we involuntarily like or dislike. And physical contact can be pleasant or unpleasant too, of course.
When we are doing walking meditation, there will be feelings associated with the body, from a niggling pain, to a pleasant feeling of relaxation. There will also be feelings associated with things that we see, and hear, and with all of the other sensory modalities that we experience – including those that are imagined. Thoughts and images that arise in the mind also have feelings associated with them.
In paying attention to feelings, the important thing is simply to notice them without either clinging to them or pushing them away. When we are unaware, it is very common for the mind to start grasping after experiences associated with pleasant feelings.
An example would be when I talked earlier about walking past shop window displays. The shopkeeper has arranged goods and advertising in the window that he or she hopes will give rise to pleasant feelings. She or he doesn’t do this just in order to make your life more pleasant however. He or she hopes that the emotion of desire will cause you to stop and look, and possibly even to come in to the shop and make a purchase.
We also respond emotionally to unpleasant feelings. So you might, as in another example above, feel anger towards the colleague who has such bad taste in perfume. Anger is a form of aversion or rejection.
In practicing mindfulness, we’re trying to be more aware of how our experience moves from sensation, to feeling, to emotion, so that we have more choice over what emotions we experience. Of course, the aim in meditation is to cultivate positive emotions and to eradicate negative emotions. So we try simply to notice what feelings arise, without letting our mind unmindfully stray into negative emotional patterns.
The third foundation of mindfulness that we pay attention to in walking meditation is our emotional and mental states, or citta.
In Buddhism, the word citta means both heart and mind. So here, we’re becoming aware of our emotions and of our state of mind as we do walking meditation.
So, as you are walking along, you can be aware of the emotions that you’re experiencing. These will almost certainly change throughout the course of a single period of walking meditation. A particular meditator might start off experiencing boredom, become slightly irritated as they wonders what this practice is about, and then start developing curiosity and interest as they begin to notice their body beginning to relax, and then feel joyful as the practice becomes more and more fulfilling. Then the approach of a large dog may cause some anxiety, which may turn to relief as the dog passes, and then they may experience joy once more.
Our emotional states often change quite rapidly. The quality of your mental states may also change. Your mind can be bright or dull. You may notice that you have a lot of thoughts at one time, and that your mind is very calm at another time.
Often when your mind is very busy, your thoughts are not connected to the meditation practice at all. You may be thinking about all sorts of other things. When your mind is more calm, your thoughts are more likely to be connected with your actual experience and with the meditation practice itself. It’s very common, in our day-to-day lives, for us to be quite unaware of our current experience.
Instead, we are lost in thoughts about the past or the future. Practicing mindfulness helps us to “be in the moment.”
Walking is described in the early Buddhist teachings as an important opportunity for practicing mindfulness. The Buddha described walking meditation (among other actitivities) as an important opportunity to practice mindfulness of the mind:
Suppose a practitioner has a sensual, malicious, or cruel thought while walking. They don’t tolerate them, but give them up, get rid of them, eliminate them, and obliterate them. Such a practitioner is said to be ‘keen and prudent, always energetic and determined’ when walking.
One who, whether standing or walking,
sitting or lying down,
has calmed their thoughts,
loving peace of mind;
such a mendicant is capable
of touching the highest awakening.
In being aware of our emotional and mental states during walking meditation, we try to maintain this practice of being in the moment. By filling our mind with the richness of the experience of walking, we leave less room for daydreaming and fantasy. Instead, we are deeply aware of our present experience, which becomes far more fulfilling than any daydream.
With practice, we become more continuously aware of our emotional and mental states. This is an important skill to develop. Our mental and emotional states change in dependence upon the way we think, the habitual emotional patterns that we allow to unfold, as well as the speech and physical activities that we engage in.
Once we become more sensitized to the effects of our inner and outer actions, we have more choice. We can choose not to pursue a particularly negative train of thought, or realize that we’ve been speaking harshly to someone, because we are acutely aware of the unpleasant effects that these actions are having on us.
With awareness comes choice, and with choice comes freedom.
5. Being aware of the direction of our experience
The fourth foundation of mindfulness that we bring attention to in walking meditation is dharmas. This is a word that can mean many things, depending on context. Sometimes it’s translated as “objects of consciousness.”
Here, we are aware not just of the general state of our emotions and of our minds, but of the specific contents of our emotions and of our thoughts, and are able to categorize these things. At the very least, we can be aware of whether our thoughts and emotions are those that we want to encourage or to discourage. Are our thoughts and emotions taking us in the direction of mindfulness, contentedness, and kindness? Are they taking us in the direction of being obsessed with thinking, discontented, and harsh?
An analogy would be weeding a garden. You need to make decisions about which plants you wish to encourage in your garden, and which you want to eliminate. Being aware of objects of consciousness is thus rather like knowing which plants are weeds, and which plants are those that you want to cultivate. This kind of knowledge comes with study, reflection, and — above all — experience.
As you’re walking, you might find that you’re preoccupied with some conflict you’re having with another person, for example. You might notice that you’re obsessing about this in an unhelpful way — going over conversations you’ve had over and over again, and coming up with clever put-downs. And you can notice that this is making you unhappy. Probably you’ll notice physical tension, and you may also find that you’re walking more quickly and aggressively. This is obviously an unhelpful direction for you to be heading in.
Now say you become mindful that you’re feeling unhappy because of the way you’re obsessing about this conflicted situation. You no have more of a motivation to let go of those thoughts when they arise, and to bring your attention more fully into the body instead. You might find that you keep getting drawn back into this inner conflict, but you keep letting go. Eventually you’ll find that your mind begins to settle down, and that the body relaxes. You might remember to bring more of an attitude of kindness and compassion into your experience: compassion toward yourself, because you’ve been causing yourself suffering, and kindness toward the other person because they, just like you, are a being who feels and who wants to be happy. If you do manage to connect with an attitude of kindness or compassion, you’ll probably experience feelings of inner warmth and openness. You’ll feel happier. This is obviously a more helpful direction for you to be heading in.
So, in this walking meditation, we start with the experience of our bodies, and then become aware of our feelings, and then our thoughts and emotions. And then we begin to recognize that in every moment we have the choice to move toward or away from mindfulness, toward or away from unhappiness, toward or away from kindness. This is “mindfulness of dharmas.”
6. Balancing inner and outer experience
One thing I haven’t mentioned so far in this discussion of the four foundations of mindfulness in walking meditation is our awareness of the outside world.
Our awareness of the world is obviously dependent upon our senses, which are part of our bodies. So you might think that it would be best to focus on the outside world right at the beginning of the practice.
However, I find it useful first of all to connect with my body, and only to focus on the outside world when I’m becoming aware of my feeling responses to what I perceive in my environment. Of course, I’m aware of the outside world for the whole of the period of the walking meditation (it would be dangerous not to), but I only focus on the outside world once I have thoroughly “grounded” my awareness in my body. Otherwise I’m likely to get distracted.
Once I have been through the whole experience of my body, feelings, emotions, and objects of consciousness, I like to try to balance my awareness of the inner and the outer worlds. During walking meditation, there are some experiences that are purely internal (the sensations in your body, your emotions, etc.) and there are some that relate to the outside world (you are seeing trees, and grass, and rocks; you are hearing the sounds of the wind and of vehicles).
It’s paradoxical, but being more aware of our inner world makes us more deeply aware of the outside world. When you develop more mindfulness, you become more intensely aware of what is around you. By contrast, when we are distracted we tend to get rather wrapped up in ourselves and hardly notice the outside world, or only notice it in a superficial way. When our minds become calmer, we find we are more open to the beauty of the world.
I find that it is possible to have an awareness of both inner and outer experiences, more or less simultaneously, and that when I can balance my awareness of inner and outer experiences my mind settles on a point of quiet, calm, lucid awareness.
One thing that will help you to establish a balanced awareness of the inner and outer is to pay very close attention to the angle of your head (as I mentioned in the section on body awareness during walking meditation). When your chin is tucked too far towards your chest, you are likely to get caught up in your emotional states. It’s as if you get sucked into a whirlpool of emotions, often of a rather dark and brooding nature.
When your chin is too high, and your chin is pointing in the air, you are likely either to get caught up in a maelstrom of thoughts, or to get very caught up in the outside world.
When you develop a balanced head position, so that your chin is very slightly tucked in, it’s much easier to be aware of your thoughts, your emotions, and the outside world in a balanced way. At this point of balance, you’ll notice that the muscles on the back of your neck are long and relaxed.
Your skull is also balanced perfectly and effortlessly, with the crown of your head supporting the sky. The back of your neck feels open, and your chin is very slightly tucked in. Your gaze is into the middle distance; you are neither looking at the ground directly in front of you, nor are you gazing at the horizon. Your gaze is directed slightly downwards, perhaps meeting the ground 50 yards in front of you.
There can come a point where the very distinction between inner and outer ceases to have much meaning, and there is simply undifferentiated experience, with no sense of self or other. When this kind of experience arises, it’s very joyful. It almost feels like a huge burden has been laid down – the burden of self.
When you begin to end the practice by coming to a natural and comfortable stop, notice what happens.
It can be a very powerful experience to simply stand once more. Compare this experience with the standing that you did at the start of the practice.
Notice the sensations from all parts of your body. Notice your feelings, emotions, and thoughts. Notice the world around you and find a point of balance between your awareness of the inner and outer worlds.
Most people report a huge increase in physical sensitivity, often with sensations of tingling energy. Often this is accompanied by a sense of joy, happiness, or even bliss.
Be sure to give yourself a few moment to assimilate the effects of the practice before moving on to another activity. If you immediately rush off to do something else you may find that the effect is rather jarring. As you move off from your session of walking meditation, maintain some continuity, so that there’s still a meditative attitude in what you do.
It’s quite common for us to be far more sensitive than we are aware off. So make sure that you end the practice graciously, and try to take the greater degree of awareness that you have gained into whatever activity you do next.
It may be that you’re not able to be as intensely mindful in your next activity as you were in the walking meditation, but as much as possible let your mindfulness, and any calm and happiness that you’ve connected with, percolate into the rest of your day.
Even if you don’t make any conscious effort to continue being mindful beyond your session of walking meditation you’ll probably find that you’re just a bit more “together” and a bit more patience and calm than you would normally be.
Learning the Practice a Little at a Time
There’s a lot you can be aware of while doing walking meditation. When you first start doing this practice, you might want to keep the practice very simple – especially if you find that you get distracted easily.
You can start off just by being aware of your body as you walk. Perhaps you might spend most of your time being aware of just your feet. It’s OK to do this, and to build up the practice slowly.
You might then expand your awareness beyond the feet, to include the calves. And then the knees, the thighs, the hips — and eventually the whole body.
Once you’ve gotten better at keeping your awareness grounded in your body, you can start becoming aware of other elements of your experience, like your feeling and emotions.
When you can do that and still stay mindful of the practice for most of the time, then you can add the elements of mindfulness of objects of consciousness and balancing the awareness of inner and outer.
I’d also suggest that the first time you try walking meditation you give it at least 20 minutes and go to some quiet place like a park, where you are likely to be able to walk undisturbed.
Once you’ve done a few twenty minute sessions and have gotten the hang of the practice, then you can start also doing shorter sessions — walking from your car to the office, or walking from your home to a grocery store.
Some of my students find that they want to do the walking meditation in a slightly different way from the method that I outline on the site and in recordings I’ve made for them.
Some want to spend longer being aware of their emotions, while others want to pay more
attention to the world around them, especially when in the country.
Some want to repeat a phrase of affirmation, or bear in mind a Buddhist teaching such as impermanence as they walk. I think it’s an excellent sign when students want to adapt the practice in this way.
Usually, my advice here is to make the walking meditation practice your own. There are no set stages in this practice. You can do it in your own way. I would recommend always starting with awareness of your body, but you should make the practice yours and shape it so that it fits your needs.
Others of my students have adapted the principles of walking meditation practice by applying it to running, cycling, skateboarding, rollerblading, and even to playing rugby. I’m always very pleased when I hear how students have creatively applied the principles of meditation to other activities that are important to them.
Two really interesting examples have been to do with hiking and playing rugby. In both cases, the students concerned have been in very demanding physical situations, where ordinarily they might have found themselves getting into quite negative states of mind.
Hiking can be pretty tough going, especially when the weather gets bad and you feel exhausted. One of my students related how she just kept letting go of negative thoughts as she hiked, and chose instead to simply be aware of her physical experience. Her usual tendency would have been to wallow in self-pity as she puffed her way up a steep incline, but through practicing mindfulness, she managed to stay in a balanced and positive frame of mind, even although her body was aching.
My rugby-playing student (also a woman) talked about how she would be in the last fifteen minutes of a match. She would be physically exhausted and emotionally drained at this point in the game. Usually she’d think of nothing but how much she wanted the game to be over. But through practicing “being in the moment” and simply being aware of her experience, she managed to deeply enjoy finishing her matches – even in the moments when she’d be lying in the mud with someone standing on her head! She’s obviously made of sterner stuff than I am!
Making the practice your own in this way allows you more flexibility. You can then do walking meditation for two minutes while walking from one office to another, or you can practice walking meditation for four hours during a hike in the country.
You can even adapt the walking meditation so that you practice mindfulness while running, and it’s possible to do a sort of cycling meditation as well. A friend of mine who is paraplegic does “walking meditation” in his wheelchair.
Once you make the walking meditation practice your own, it becomes a very flexible and useful tool.
It was a traditional practice at the time of the Buddha for monks and nuns to practice the Development of Lovingkindness (metta bhavana)meditation as they walked around.
For example in the famous “metta sutta” (discourse on practicing kindness) we read:
Let one radiate boundless kindness towards the entire world—above, below, and across—unhindered, without ill will, without enmity.
Standing, walking, sitting or reclining, as long as he is awake, let him develop this mindfulness.
Monks and nuns (and probably householder Buddhists as well) would practice in this way while walking in towns, in the countryside, and even in the forest. Monks would radiate kindness towards wild animals as they walked through the forests and jungles. India at that time was heavily forested, and attacks by snakes and other wild animals were common. It was considered that this practice was a good protection against snake attacks.
Even if you’re not at risk from cobras, you might still want to try practicing radiating lovingkindness as you do walking meditation. It can be a beautiful feeling to radiate kindness as you walk past people. You can start doing walking meditation in the usual way, deepening your awareness of your body, feelings, emotions, and objects of consciousness.
Then you can keep your focus on your heart-center, and wish everyone well. You can imagine that you have a sun in your heart, and that you are radiating warmth and light in every direction as you walk. Or you can repeat the phrase “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering.”
This may also be an appropriate point to talk about what you do if you’re practicing walking meditation and you see someone you know. My suggestion is that you deal with the situation as you feel appropriate. If it’s possible, and appropriate, for you just to say “hi” and keep on going, then do that.
If it seems appropriate to stop and talk to the other person, then you can interrupt the walking meditation, but try to bring the qualities of awareness that you have developed in the practice into your conversation. You might want just to stop for a moment and say something like: “Hi there! I’d really like to stop and talk, but I’m practicing my walking meditation just now. Can I call you later?”
What you have to watch out for is on the one hand being rude through clinging to the idea that you are doing something so special that it can’t be interrupted, and on the other hand using an encounter with another person to avoid the practice. We call this “being precious” about your practice. Sometimes also we act out of guilt. We feel we”have to” stop and talk to this person because we feel guilty about spending time working on ourselves. This is something we should work hard to overcome.
If you do happen to stop and talk to someone, then resume your walking meditation practice afterwards, and at the beginning spend a few moments evaluating what your motives were in stopping. There is always something to learn from these encounters.
You can adapt the practice of walking metta bhavana to activities such as riding a bus or train, or driving a car. Rather than have your mind spacing out, you can direct thoughts of loving kindness toward your fellow passengers and to other drivers, pedestrians, etc. This kind of activity can powerfully enrich our emotional experience and leave us feeling much happier. Rather than idly daydream, and have nothing to show for it, we can find ourselves more at peace with the world and ourselves.
The following video, by Howcast, is a very straightforward and clear guide to walking meditation.
Some of the wording is very similar to the instructions on this site and I’m pretty sure they used this site as one of their sources in putting together the video. But the quality of the instruction suggests that the people who made this aren’t just copying and pasting instructions from other sources but have genuine experience of walking meditation practice.