By learning a Walking Meditation I want to consider the specific idea of, as Larry Rosenberg puts it. “Taking the breath for a walk”.
I was recently introduced to a remarkable book, Breath by Breath by Larry Rosenberg. As the title suggests the book deals with the role of the breath in a meditative context. We all breath. Some of us without effort and some of us with difficulty, nevertheless we all breath. In his forward to the book Jon Kabat-Zin observes:
“Each breath moment is its own universe. In meditation, we come to know something of this terrain in ways that open doors, that bring us back to our senses, that refine our hearts, that help us understand what it is like to be human, right here right now. No two breaths are the same; no two moments are the same. Each one is our life. Each one is infinitely deep and complete in itself”.
In meditation we can use the breath as an anchor to help and guide us back when the mind wanders, reminding ourselves that we are here in our present moment. As long as we are alive our breath is always with us and its not something we have to learn to do; it is natural and instinctive.
Let’s just think about learning a Walking Meditation. Most of us take walking for granted. We define a purpose in our consciousness, decide to act and automatically our bodies take us to wherever we need to be. Of course, it was not always so. We all had to learn to walk, and some of us have had to relearn that skill.
Take some time if you can to watch a toddler process the myriad amounts of information that are required to simply take a step or two whilst spinning the cognitive plates of balance, locomotion, muscle control and spatial awareness. Its an amazing thing to behold. Something that many of us take for granted.
We can choose to walk in a ‘Mindful’ way where we ensure we are aware of our surroundings, allowing all our senses to drink in the experiences; of the air moving against our skin, the scent of the air, the sounds that reach us and all that we see. We can experience all this without judging or becoming attached and creating a story in our minds, a dialogue about how beautiful or ugly or serene or noisy our environment may or may not be.
Henry David Thoreau, a 19th century American who was among other things a poet, philosopher and abolitionist wrote of the importance of Mindfulness when walking.
"Of course, it is of no use to direct our steps to the woods if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would feign forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society, but it still happens sometimes that I cannot easily shake the village. The thought of some work will run through my head and I am not where my body is – I am out of my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking out of the woods".
I think we can see the point he is making because it is something we all do – being on auto pilot – missing irretrievable moments as we immerse ourselves in the machinations and random ruminations of our helter-skelter minds.
By learning a Walking Meditation we can enhance our meditation practice through walking in a formal way where we investigate meditation in motion. Here we are observing the breath and moving with it. The breath sets the pace.
Choose a place where you are going to be unobstructed. You may have to choose a path where you need to turn back on yourself and walk up and down. This is fine you just need to turn mindfully, being fully aware of what you are doing and how your body and mind feels in that moment.
- So we can begin walking at a naturally slow pace. Walking slowly, but naturally.
- It is important to walk with good posture and if it is comfortable for you bring your hands up to around your diaphragm so your forearms parallel to the ground. This will help with stability whilst you
- Try to match your steps to your breath. Breathe as naturally as you can and pay attention to how many steps you take for each in-breath and each out-breath. Move slowly at first.
- Count your steps for each in and out breath until you reach a natural rhythm and can let go of the count.
- Be fully present as you move. When walking, are you just moving your legs forward, one step at a time? Not quite! Walking is what is known as a gross movement, meaning there are multiple subtle movements included within the greater action of walking. Think about our toddler observation.
- To begin with, the act of walking can be roughly broken down as follows:
Lifting the foot up - Swinging the foot forward - Placing the foot back down
And initially this is really what you should be paying attention to as you follow the length of each complete left step and each complete right step.
You can focus your awareness on the strike of your heels on the ground or the sensation in the balls of your feet with each left step and each right step and the sensations in your foot and leg muscles as you move. Be curious and fully explore how it really feels
As you move, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and even sometimes outside distractions will come into focus. It OK, that’s what the mind does. Gently acknowledge them nonjudgmentally, just noticing them, observing them clearly, and then shift your focus back to your breath or you movement.
Check out the video as it might help you with the process but don’t get overly caught up or obsessed thinking about the technique. Remember the intention with our meditations be they walking, sitting, lying or standing is to train our minds to dwell fully in the present moment.
Like Thoreau, how often have we arrived only to realise that the journey has been lost to us?
Learning a Walking Meditation is taught as part of the Mindful Movement section of our MBSR course.