Updated: Aug 11, 2020
As far back as I can remember, this latest walk was probably my slowest walk ever, taken in silence. This time, it was not about the physical act of walking, but about me finding a safe place to walk again, for the first time.
Recently, I received a DM that my younger cousin took his life. And just like that, blood rushed away from my lower limbs. It was an indescribable feeling and thank goodness I was sitting. I then felt everything stopped, followed by internal silence. My mind got quiet, trying to process the magnitude of this tragedy for our entire family.
I cancelled my class and went for an evening walk. It was difficult to find my balance, so I walked extremely slow, following the painted line on the street. I continued my slow walk and was able to listen to my breathing. For a while, I focused only on one step at a time, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot.
Just like that, life can stop or life can go on; but what I do know is I have a choice. And at this time, I chose to walk again to find balance in the middle of this tragic loss. Eventually, the energy started to flow back again, and I felt a bit more in tune with my feelings, my mind and body.
What is Silent Walking Meditation?
If you are a new meditator, walking meditation is an excellent practice to start. We are all familiar with how challenging it is to be in silence, observing your breath. Before you know it, the mind is hijacked with all sort of thoughts of the past or future; it's frustrating not to know what to do or how to respond.
A walking meditation is to practice being present; you walk with no specific path, not going anywhere special. You are practicing being present with every step. It is an easier method of meditation before jumping into the sitting meditation; it requires the same intention and attention. We normally don't think about how to walk, it's an automatic activity. But with walking meditation, the mindful action of walking takes center stage and we do it with full awareness.
How To Practice Walking Meditation
Start by choosing a small private path where you can take 12 – 15 steps forwards and back.
Begin walking slow with focus only on your breath – walk to the end of your path. Pause, turn, and walk back to your starting point. Continue walking step by step, moment by moment.
Walking meditation can be broken down in 4 parts. 1) The lifting of one foot off the ground; 2) the placing of the foot onto the ground, heel first; 3) the shifting of the body’s weight on the forward leg; 4) and last, the back heel lifting with toes touching the ground first. The cycle continues as you lift each heel. As you move forward, observe your heel, foot, leg as it swings forward and touches the ground and focus on the body shifting. Walk very slow, aware of each movement.
Let your arms and hands hang next to your body or clasp them at your back; whatever is most natural to you.
Focus on your breath, how it moves you, how it feels inside. Focus on the movement of your legs and feet and on the full sensation of your body as a whole. Keep your eyes forward. And don’t forget to pay attention to the soundscape around you.
If the mind starts to wander, ask yourself where did the mind go. Notice the wandering, and firmly but gently, bring your mind back to the action of walking.
A good start for your walking meditation is 5 – 10 minutes. And before you know it, your walks will become longer and longer.
Adding a Mantra Helps
A mantra is a single syllable word with no meaning used to protect the mind. SO-HUM is a common mantra and can be used as you walk. As you place your heel on the ground, internally, tell yourself SO and as you place the rest of your foot on the floor, repeat HUM. Using this mantra as an example, repeating it as you walk, will help you make the mind-body connection and develop confidence with this practice.
Throughout the entire practice, continue to redirect your attention to body movements. While it is not typical to walk this way, in time, with practice, the walking meditation can deliver the same benefits as any other meditative practice: concentration, stress-relief, single-point attention, self-compassion, patience, resilience, and many others.
Walking meditation can help find meaning in activities that otherwise become meaningless. Because we are often in a hurry, we create the bad habit of arriving at a particular place and not remembering how we got there and this causes us to not pay attention to the small details of life and miss the entire journey. So the next time you are off on your journey, take a moment and pause to practice mindful walking; you may arrive late but in the process you may discover something new about yourself and your surroundings.
With tragedy, life can come to a complete stop making it incredibly challenging to readjust. When life seems to be stuck or if your energy and thoughts get sticky in your mind, find a way to stop and perform a walking meditation. With practice, your body will adjust positively and respond kindly. We can only handle one day at a time, one moment at a time. Honour the moment that you are in today.
One of my favourite quotes brings me joy and calmness:
Take my hand. We will walk. We will only walk. We will enjoy our walk without thinking of arriving anywhere.”
(from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist)
Soundcloud Walking Meditation by Joh Kabat Zinn
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Segment by Halton Centre
The following material is provided for educational purposes only. Use at your own discretion. If you have a health problem, medical emergency, or a general health question, you should contact a physician or other qualified health care provider for consultation, diagnosis and/or treatment.
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