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13 Benefits of Walking Meditation

What is walking meditation?

Walking is usually an occasion for most of us to operate on autopilot — our minds cycling through life considerations as our feet carry us from Point A to Point B. In contrast, walking meditation is a simple and universal practice for developing embodied awareness by instead inviting you to bring your complete attention to the here and now.

Each footstep forward is a deliberate act of awareness, each thing you encounter a chance to ground into presence. Mindfully walking in this way cultivates feelings of calm and connectivity — an opportunity to remember that you will always be an integral piece of the greater whole.

In a walking meditation, the idea is to focus closely on your physical experience of walking — paying attention to the specific components of each step. This normal activity can suddenly become a study in presence that enriches your everyday life, even potentially translating into other ‘mundane’ moments where you might have previously just zoned out or let your mind wander. And you don't need a lot of practice or expertise to get started, just a desire to have a different experience and the willingness to show up for it.

Benefits of Meditation While Walking:

1. Improves awareness

Continuously drawing your attention forward, even as your mind wanders, keeps you in the present moment, which improves your concentration and connection with your physical surroundings and mental state. This can carry over into any sitting meditations, as well as your daily life.

2. Improves sleep quality

Meditation helps curb stress, anxiety and depression, three of the main drivers of insomnia and disrupted sleep cycles. A regular meditation practice can reduce your heart rate and decrease blood pressure, while also increasing your body’s production of melatonin, a sleep hormone.

3. Offers mental clarity

Walking meditation can slow down racing thoughts and balance the brain’s many distractions, allowing you to focus on your immediate physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

4. Facilitates awareness of physical sensations

This form of meditation operates like a moving body scan, inviting you to take inventory of your physical being and all its sensations along the way. As you note the way your feet feel as they’re connecting to the ground, and how your arms feel as they swing by your sides, a sense of wholeness can blossom.

5. Boosts blood flow and circulation

Walking meditation can be an excellent complement to a seated meditation practice, or if you have a job that requires you to spend a lot of time at a desk or on a computer. Even a short effort can immediately alleviate feelings of sluggishness or stagnancy.

6. Improves digestion

Walking after a meal is proven to be beneficial for moving food through your digestive tract, and with the added mindfulness component there is an opportunity for an even greater sense of gratitude for and connection with the nourishment you’ve received, your personal satiety levels, and the feeling in your body as the food you’ve consumed incorporates into it.

7. Reduces anxiety

Studies have suggested that a combination of walking and meditation is more effective for reducing symptoms of anxiety than simply walking by itself. Even as little as 10 minutes can have a marked effect on your experience, especially if you walk in the morning.

8. Alleviates depression

Regular exercise is a known mood booster. By additionally taking the time to notice the small details in your surroundings, you can foster a more clear sense of being part of a greater whole, alleviating symptoms of depression by increasing connectivity and reducing feelings of isolation.

9. Makes exercise enjoyable

By noticing your physical sensations and experiences in a nonjudgmental way, mindfulness can dramatically change the way you exercise. Additionally, listening to a guided meditation during your activity can captivate your mental focus in a way that feels expansive and enjoyable no matter what you’re doing.

10. Inspires creativity

With clarity and focus comes enhanced problem-solving and cultivation of new ideas. Creating spaciousness inside of your mental experience allows for inspiration and visionary thinking.

11. Enhances balance

Especially as you age, regular activity — and specifically walking — can have a dramatically positive influence on your overall health and wellbeing. Additionally, the concentration and awareness involved in walking meditation can prevent injuries, as each foot is placed carefully, and steps are slowed.

12. Generates peace and compassion

Mindfulness practices give you the ability to pay more careful attention to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without assigning them labels like ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ This has been proven to reduce stress and generate more positive emotions. Walking is one form of meditation that is both accessible and effective for cultivating a more balanced and compassionate relationship with yourself, and others.

13. Unites your body and mind

Walking meditation is first and foremost a practice to bring body and mind together peacefully. This declutters your mental and emotional states so that you can see more clearly, sense more intuitively, and connect more deeply. When you can recognize each thought or feeling clearly, seeing the truth of it without judgment, its power over you dissipates. Acceptance becomes more available. Releasing becomes easier. This sense of equanimity is only really attainable when your body and mind are united in conversation.

How To Do A Walking Meditation

Walking meditation is based on a habit you likely engage in nearly every day — walking — which makes it extremely easy to begin incorporating into your life. Once you understand the basic concepts, you can employ the techniques wherever you are: urban or rural environments, isolated or in the midst of a crowd. Engaging with this practice first thing in the morning, when the air (and your mind) is fresh, can be especially beneficial — waking up to the day, and to the world, with a new and more deliberate sense of presence.

Ideally you’ll identify your route before you begin, even if just in a general way. This can also be done indoors, if that’s your preference or only option at any particular moment. And walking meditation doesn’t have to be overly formal, requiring you to set aside dedicated time in your day — perhaps you take advantage of your usual walk to a cafe on your lunch break, spending the 10 minutes en route practicing mindfulness, while also continuing with your regular routine. Footwear isn’t something to be overly concerned about, as this practice can be done in whatever makes you feel most comfortable, or makes the most sense for the moment.

The key to walking meditation is that it’s not about the way you walk or what you’re walking around, but where your attention is focused as you’re moving. This shouldn’t feel like work, it should feel like an exploration of time and spaciousness.

  • Take a pause before you begin to gather your awareness and center into your body. Feel your feet connected with the ground beneath you. Engage a deep, slow breath – in and out. Notice how your body feels: Heavy or light? Stiff or relaxed? How is your posture?

  • Keeping your eyes open, and with enough awareness to guarantee your route and safety, begin walking at a natural pace, or perhaps just slightly slower. Observe your gait and how your body feels in motion. With each intentional step, pay attention to the sensations in the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Notice the changes in pressure, texture, and slope as you place each foot forward. If you’re inside, simply walk the length of your space and then turn around.

  • When your mind wanders away from the experience of your feet, gently guide the focus back to those sensations. Having your mind jump from place to place is normal. Bringing it back each time without frustration and irritation is a key to building the practice.

  • Shift your attention to your vision – what you’re observing around you. Bring your full focus to the various colors, shapes, movements, lights and shadows, or items in your line of sight. Aim to simply be present with what is there, without mental commentary, judgement, or labeling. And if your mind wanders, guide it back with equanimity.

  • Now become aware of any smells or other physical sensations. Is there a breeze blowing? Is the sun hot on your shoulders? Notice how your mind habitually wants to create a story around each smell you might come across, reminding you of somewhere, something, someone. Gently bring it back to the present moment.

  • Next expand your attention to what you can hear. Whether you’re indoors or out, there is always some noise or sound to become aware of. Notice these things as nothing more or less than what simply exists in the moment, without getting caught up in whether you find them pleasant or unpleasant.

  • In the final moments of your walking meditation, bring all your focus back to where you started – the sensations in the soles of your feet. End here with gratitude for the way they have carried you over the course of your practice, and let the sense of connectivity with all you’ve encountered along the way fully integrate into your body and mind before moving on with your day.

Incorporating Walking Meditation Into Your Life

Meditating while walking means you are essentially asking your mind to actively participate in what your body is doing, rather than floating off to address some other series of thoughts or concerns. By focusing your attention on the present moment, you can tap into a deeper connection with your body and your surroundings, bringing a soft and curious awareness to all that is happening within and around you. Imagine how many more memories you might create, how many more details you might notice, if you were actively experiencing your life as you lived it, even in the small, seemingly unimportant or ‘boring’ moments? Walking meditation is a way to experiment with this sort of awareness because, unlike a seated meditation practice, you’ll be continuously navigating and interacting with your environment for the duration — eyes open, taking it all in.

Additionally, walking meditation deliberately combines your breathing with your motions, cycling in- and out-breaths with each of your two or three steps forward. As Thich Nhat Hanh said in his acclaimed book, How to Walk :

“When we return to our breathing, we return to the present moment, our true home.”

Breathing inherently has the function of helping your body realign with a more peaceful, relaxed equilibrium. Incorporating specific meditation mantras or short sayings with your breathing and walking patterns can also serve to enhance this. You can read more about Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on walking meditation here.

Exploring Walking Meditation at The Colony

Our property here in the Anza Borrego desert has more than a dozen trails that would be perfect for cultivating your walking meditation practice. Not only are they carefully laid out for ease of direction, but the spaciousness and energy of the land creates a welcoming environment that encourages you to lean in to the here and now. Pay attention to the terrain under your feet as it shifts from firm rocky footing to sandier stretches, feel the wind as it moves over your body, and listen to all the subtle and overt sounds of nature all around you: the swift beating of the wings of a quail in flight, the cooing of a dove, the rustle of the breeze through the sugarbush, the hum of the bees on a flowering plant.

Additionally, we often host guided tours that can provide a little more structure to your walking meditation efforts. This way you'll also have the opportunity to learn more about the land you're connecting with from the people who know it best, and meet some likeminded community with which to share and process your experiences. Keep an eye on our Instagram, and make sure to sign up for our newsletter so you don't miss any upcoming events.

Do you have a walking meditation practice? Let us know in the comments how this kind of intentional movement has impacted your sense of connectivity and awareness, as well as any tips or insights for those just getting started!

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