Walking Meditation is one technique that we can use to strengthen our Attention Control Muscles, in order to develop our mind’s ability to concentrate.
When we practice “walking meditation,” we train all four of our Attention Control Muscles.
The first, arguably most important faculty that we train is what I will sometimes refer to as “Mindfulness.” When I use the word “mindfulness,” I want you to know that I am referring to the mind’s awareness of itself. This is the first of the Attention Control Muscles; the brain’s ability to consciously notice where its attention is focused at any given moment.
Through walking meditation, we also train the brain to:
- consciously choose an object on which to focus its attention,
- hold its attention on one object for an extended period of time,
- notice, but not be distracted by, other phenomena while maintaining full attention on one object.
Mindfulness (the mind’s awareness of itself) presides over all of these other faculties.
In “walking meditation,” the object we choose to focus on is the walking process. Try to be as aware as possible of all of the following elements of the walking process, as you move:
- The position of the body in space
- The movement of the body through its environment
- The center of gravity and balance in the body
- The sensations on the bottom of the feet as they touch the ground
- The different stages in the process of walking
Maintaining awareness of awareness is not easy. Our minds often wander without us even noticing. For that reason, in walking meditation, we walk in a slightly different way than we usually do. This forces us to notice when the attention has wandered from the object of meditation. Walking in this special way requires your full attention; the wandering of attention will nearly always cause a misstep, loss of balance, and clumsy movement. You will notice as your level of mindfulness rises, so does your movement become more graceful.
There are many different forms of walking meditation. I will focus on one form that I learned at a Theravada Buddhist monastery in southern Thailand, as this form seems to be one of the oldest and most widely used.
- Starting Position: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Shift your weight to your left foot, and center yourself over it.
- Raising: Lift your right foot slowly off the ground, so that your heel comes up behind you toward your buttocks.
- Moving: Now, carefully, slowly, and gracefully, move your raised leg in front of you so that your foot is above the ground directly in front of you. Don’t put it too far in front of you, or it may be hard to balance later.
- Placing: Lower your toes to the ground, and slowly press your foot into the floor, feeling the sensations in your foot. This is a good time to take note of your new foot-position, and make sure that the ground where you have now softly placed your foot is suitable for standing (no sharp objects, not unstable, etc).
- Shifting: Lastly, shift your weight to the front foot, so that your center of gravity is directly above your leg. Your right ankle, knee, and hip should be completely aligned, and your body should be positioned directly above. The heel of your back foot will naturally rise up off the ground. You are now positioned to raise your back foot and start the process over again (from Step 2: Raising).
- Repeat Steps 2-5 with the left foot. When you are ready to place your left foot on the ground, choose a spot just in front and to the left of your right foot.
- Stopping: After you have taken five to ten mindful steps in this way, and you have reached a convenient place to stop, it is time to stop, turn around, and walk back to where you started. Mindfully return to Starting Position by placing the back foot to the side of the front foot, instead of in front. This is a full-stop. You can stand here for a few moments, keeping your awareness on your body in the same way you did while you were walking. Hold your mindfulness for the entire time.
- Turning: Now, with your heel on the ground, lift the toes of your right foot, and rotate your foot ninety-degrees to the right. Press your right foot into the floor, lift your left foot, and turn your whole body ninety-degrees to the right, placing your left foot parallel to your right foot again. Repeat this ninety-degree turn one more time, and you have turned a full one hundred and eighty degrees. Now you are back in Starting Position, facing back in the direction that you came from.
- Slowly, mindfully, and gracefully repeat Steps 2-8.
And smile while you do it 😉
Breathe deeply all the while.
Make sure your movements are slow, deliberate, and most of all, be mindful of your body position the entire way through! You may notice that your ability to remain balanced and graceful depends on your level of mindfulness.
When your attention flows into the movements of your body, it moves gracefully. When your attention wanders, your body becomes clumsy and out of control. This is something that you will notice easily through your practice of Walking Meditation.
You may also notice this later, in your daily life. When your attention is lost in thoughts and concepts, you impair your ability to skillfully control your body and navigate your external environment. This leads to clumsiness, accidents, broken objects, broken bones, et cetera. In our world of heavy machinery and fast-moving vehicles, a momentary lapse in mindfulness can even lead to death. Oftentimes, driving under the influence of a mind clouded by thoughts can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. Please, for your own safety and for the safety of those around you, be mindful out there.
For a simpler form of walking meditation, check out this awesome video.