Walking Meditation

This mindfulness walking meditation focuses on body sensations and also adds an element of concentration that helps to focus the mind. I learned this type of walking meditation on a silent retreat with Eric Kolvig. The majority of the retreat was sitting body scan meditation with periods of interspersed walking meditation. This was my first multi-day silent retreat and I noticed that I began to develop an aversion to people who I didn’t know and had never spoken to. This walking meditation served to redirect my mind and helped me come more completely into my present experience.

I have since used the practice during many difficult times including intense physical activity or while experiencing strong emotions. I did an 11 day trek in Bolivia that went over 16,000 foot mountain passes almost every day. The walking itself was very difficult on steep rocky terrain. It was also a solitary experience since I only went with one other person, the trails were too thin to walk side by side, and there was no extra breath for speaking. This walking meditation helped to keep my mind focused, my feet moving and helped me see the beauty of the experience.

The technique involves counting each step sequentially starting at 1 each time until reaching 10 and then counting back down to 1. So for example, the steps would be counted like this:

1, 2
1, 2, 3
1, 2, 3, 4
1, 2, 3, 4, 5

This type of counting helps the mind to remain focused and can be very subtle if you are truly paying attention. For example you can notice which foot starts with 1 and how that alternates, and where different numbers fall within the pattern of the steps. At the same time, the meditator should feel the sensations of the legs and feet as well as noticing the surroundings.

This walking meditation technique fulfills all of the qualities of mindfulness practice in that it cultivates engaged attention to the present experience; it is based direct present moment sensory experience; it accepts the mind, emotions, body sensations and environment as they are without trying to change them; and it encourages direct investigation of the subtler aspects of the experience.

During practice, there are two main obstacles that can arise, the first is the mind wandering away and loosing track of the counting, in which case the meditator should gently bring it back. If the last number sequence can be remembered, the stepping and counting should resume where they left off. If the last number sequence cannot be remembered, walkers can start over with 1 or another number of their choosing. The other obstacle that can arise is an over-concentration on the counting to the exclusion of the direct sensory experience of walking or noticing the surroundings. When meditators notice that this has occurred, they can gently bring their attention back to their legs and feet or to the sights, sounds, scents or textures of their environment.

This practice is especially useful for people who are restless or have difficulty sitting still; are experiencing strong emotions, sensations or pain; or are having trouble slowing, calming or redirecting their thoughts. It can allow strong body sensations or thoughts to be experienced and accepted without allowing them to become overwhelming. It is also a nice way to vary sitting meditation, by providing time outdoors and a little bit of exercise.

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