The practice of walking meditation is exactly what it sounds like, walking in meditation, and it's essentially just walking mindfully in a specific way.
Walking meditation has been done by people of various spiritual traditions for possibly as long as sitting meditation, and it's the second most common of all Buddhist meditation techniques.
Walking meditation is a simple but very nourishing practice. I love walking meditation because you can do it throughout your day. When you're walking in your home, from your car to work or vice versa, running errands, or simply when going for a short walk outside. Anywhere you walk you can practice walking meditation.
How to Practice Walking Meditation
These are the most common and basic walking meditation instructions:
- Decide where you're walking to: Fix your sights on a location in front of you such as your car, a building, the end of a room or street or a tree. Wherever it is, you want to walk with mindfulness and purpose. Know that is where you're walking.
- Match your steps with your breath: Breathe naturally, see how many slow steps you take for each natural inhale and exhale. You can say "in" for each step on inhale and "out" for each step on exhale. So "in, in, in" on inhale if you take 3 steps and "out, out, out" on exhale for 3 more. You can also say a phrase that calms you if you prefer. In that case, just match the number of steps you're taking with syllables. So 3 steps could be "be-at-peace".
- Be mindful of your steps: This is mindfulness meditation in action, so your point of concentration will be your steps. Put 100% of your focus into your steps. You'll want to put great care into each step you take, so walk slowly. Thich Nhat Hanh says to imagine your feet kissing the earth with each step. Take this moment in for everything that it is. There is no past and no future. Know that peace and happiness both exist in this moment.
For more information, instruction, and various different walking meditation techniques check out The Beginner's Guide to Walking Meditation.
Other forms of meditation
As I mentioned earlier, there are many different Buddhist meditation techniques and even more forms of meditation and techniques in general. Listed below are various guides and posts to different practices you can explore (Loving-kindness meditation being the second most well-known of all Buddhist meditation techniques):
- How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
- How to Find Peace and De-Stress with a Simple Tea Meditation
- The Mindfulness Survival Guide: 10 Powerful Practices for Overcoming Life’s Challenges and Living Mindfully
What's the Difference between Mindfulness and Meditation?
OK, so you're probably wondering at this point- what exactly is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
To put it simply, mindfulness is itself a form of meditation. Mindfulness is something you do as a form of sitting meditation practice, but it's also something you can do outside of sitting meditation, during your everyday life.
So, what exactly is mindfulness then? It's two things- mindfulness is both the quality of being, as well as the practice of keeping yourself, alive to the present moment (or present moment events). That's why it's used as a meditation practice (the most fundamental of all meditative practices) but also something you can so outside of sitting in meditation.
If you're walking, you're fully awake to the act of lifting, swinging, and placing each foot down and you're aware of any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that arise while you're walking. Living fully in the present moment, not reflecting on the past or planning for the future.
So, why sit down to practice mindfulness if you can do it while walking, cleaning and eating? Sitting meditation is the most concentrated form of all mindfulness practices.It allows us to enter what's often called in meditation, the highest state of "absorption".
Sitting meditation allows for the necessary level of "concentration" or absorption, for deep insights to occur. That isn't to say that you can't receive insight any other way, just that sitting meditation is the best vehicle.
Frequently Asked Questions About Meditation
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about meditation. Have a question but don't see it here? Feel free to contact me here and I'd be happy to help.
1. I can't sit still, how on earth am I supposed to meditate?
All the more reason that you need to sit! Those who have the greatest difficulty in meditation are typically the ones who get the most out of it. This excerpt from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind sums up this point well:
When you are determined to practice zazen with the great mind of Buddha, you will find the worst horse is the most valuable one. In your very imperfections you will find the basis for your firm, way-seeking mind. Those who can sit perfectly physically usually take more time to obtain the true way of Zen, the actual feeling of Zen, the marrow of Zen. But those who find great difficulties in practicing Zen will find more meaning in it. So I think that sometimes the best horse may be the worst one, and the worst horse can be the best one.
2. The same thought keeps coming into my mind while meditating, what does it mean?
Don't worry, this is perfectly natural. Mindfulness is more than just being aware of your breath. It's about being fully aware of everything occurring in this moment. Your thoughts, feelings, and various sensations being a part of that.
If the same thought keeps creeping into your mind during meditation then, as you do with any thought, simply acknowledge it each time it comes to the surface and then bring your focus back to your breath. Do this as many times as necessary. You're letting the emotion run its course.
Whether it's fear, anger or stress, this is a good thing because it's a clear sign that your mindfulness is improving. If you stick to your practice you will slowly and gently unfold your mind, watching all your fear, anger and stress arise and allowing the natural healing process of mindfulness to unfold.
Keep in mind though that to really work on this fully you should practice mindfulness in your everyday life, not just when sitting in meditation.
3. How long can I expect to meditate before seeing results?
It depends on what you consider results. In the most real sense, most of us sit to acquire peace and happiness. This is the wrong way to look at meditation, but I'll talk about that in a moment.
If you're looking to cultivate peace and happiness, the very first day could make you feel more happy and peaceful. In all likelihood though your first couple of weeks will be tough. You'll experience the "monkey mind", as it's called in Buddhism, at its greatest intensity.
Ultimately it all depends on how quiet (or loud) your mind is going into meditation practice. Either way, don't judge yourself. It doesn't matter how quiet or loud your mind is, just that you sit diligently. For the most part, the "rewards" of meditation come on their own timetable so you'll need to practice patience.
For me in my own practice, at the beginning seeing my mind gradually quiet and feeling the increasing sense of peace within myself was more than enough confirmation and encouragement for me. That started happening after just a few weeks and was significant.
You shouldn't sit down to meditate expecting anything, but of course it would be wrong to say that you started your meditation practice for no reason. That just doesn't make any sense. Know why you began your meditation practice, find confirmation of your practice in that and then let go of it.
Sit without any expectations. Only then will you see the true value of the practice.
4. How exactly is slowing down and taking time to do something completely unrelated to my work supposed to make me more productive?
I completely understand this mentality because I was that guy too. I didn't understand how doing something completely unrelated to my work could actually make me more productive.
I was the epitome of a productivity junkie. Everything I did that I felt wasn't naturally productive towards my work I tried to do at the same time as something that was. When I did work I tried to be as quick as possible and was constantly looking for ways to squeeze more time out of each day to get more work done.
It turns out none of those things make you all that more productive, and in fact, they can make you far less productive. When you allow your mind to rest, to step away from a particular project or thought for a period of time, you will notice yourself as being far more creative and productive when coming back to it. It's just the way the mind works, there's nothing more to it.
You don't have to take my word for it though, there have been studies done. And another article here that nicely sums up this point.
5. Can't I just sit down however I want when I meditate? A simple cross-legged position?
Absolutely, meditate in whatever sitting position you'd like. But be careful, a stable sitting position and proper posture are very important in a regular meditation practice.
The full lotus is the most stable position and, once you get used to it, a comfortable position to meditate in. So you should strive to sit in the full lotus.
This is a difficult position to sit in even with practice for some which is why I mention that you can sit in the half lotus or even sit on a chair if neither of those is comfortable for you.
If you'd like to sit down but prefer not to sit in the full or half lotus positions, you can take the seiza position. The seiza position is one I use often and it's essentially just dropping to your knees from a standing position and then sitting back with your butt touching your feet (spread your knees out a bit for greater stability).
In the seiza position you form the same tripod as in the full lotus and while you can do this position with a meditation pillow (the pillow between your feet), this is also the best position to sit in when you don't have a pillow handy on a flat surface. Keep in mind that if you sit like this without a cushion for too long though (10-20 minutes), your legs will go numb as you're sitting on your sciatic nerve.
Here are some additional resources to help get you started. Some of these I mentioned above throughout the guide, but I'll mention here again for good measure.
With the exception of the meditation cushions, these are all located on Buddhaimonia, be it posts, podcasts, guides, or books:
More Guides and Posts
- Tools to Help You Start Your Home Meditation Practice
- The Beginner’s Guide to Walking Meditation
- What is Mindfulness? A Guide to Mindfulness Meditation
- 5 Steps to Making Meditation a Daily Habit
- 50 Awesome Meditation Tips for Beginners
Below are short summaries of two of my books, which are some of the best resources I've written on meditation practice. The Little Book of Mindfulness is a "mindfulness A-to-Z" beginners guide while the other is an in-depth moment-to-moment everyday mindfulness practice guide. Here they are: