Much of our time is spent rushing from place to place, so preoccupied with our next activity that we don’t really notice what we’re doing now. We risk not really experiencing our life as we live it.
Practicing mindfulness can help. Mindfulness helps us tune into what we’re sensing and experiencing in the present moment—it’s the ability to pay more careful attention to our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, without judging them as good or bad. Research suggests that it not only reduce stress but also increase our experience of positive emotions. One of the basic methods for cultivating mindfulness is a “walking meditation,” which involves focusing closely on the physical experience of walking, paying attention to the specific components of each step.
Find a location. We need a lane that allows to walk back and forth for 10-15 paces—a place that is relatively peaceful, where we won’t be disturbed or even observed (since a slow, formal walking meditation can look strange to people who are unfamiliar with it). We can practice walking meditation either indoors or outside in nature. The lane doesn’t have to be very long since the goal is not to reach a specific destination, is just to practice a very intentional form of walking where we’re mostly retracing our steps.
Start our steps. Walk 10-15 steps along the lane chosen, and then pause and breathe for as long as we like. When ready, we turn and walk back in the opposite direction to the other end of the lane, where we can pause and breathe again. Then, when ready, we turn once more and continue with the walk.
The components of each step. Walking meditation involves thinking about and doing a series of actions that we normally do automatically. Breaking these steps down in our mind may feel awkward, even ridiculous. But we should try to notice at least these four basic components of each step:
- a) the lifting of one foot;
b) the moving of the foot a bit forward of where we are standing;
c) the placing of the foot on the floor, heal first;
d) the shifting of the weight of the body onto the forward leg as the back heel lifts, while the toes of that foot remain touching the floor or the ground.
Then the cycle continues, as we:
- a) lift our back foot totally off the ground;
b) observe the back foot as it swings forward and lowers;
c) observe the back foot as it makes contact with the ground, heel first;
d) feel the weight shift onto that foot as the body moves forward.
Walking meditation is slow and involves taking small steps. Most important is that it feel natural, not exaggerated or stylized.
Hands and arms. We can clasp our hands behind our back or in front of us, or we can just let them hang at our side—whatever feels most comfortable and natural.
Focusing your attention. As we walk, we try to focus our attention on one or more sensations that we would normally take for granted, such as our breath coming in and out of our body; the movement of our feet and legs, or their contact with the ground or floor; our head balanced on our neck and shoulders; sounds nearby or those caused by the movement of our body; or whatever our eyes take in as they focus on the world in front of us.
What to do when our mind wanders. No matter how much we try to fix our attention on any of these sensations, our mind will inevitably wander. That’s OK—it’s perfectly natural. When we notice our mind wandering, simply try again to focus it in one of those sensations.
Integrating walking meditation into our daily life. For many people, slow, formal walking meditation is an acquired taste. But the more we practice, even for short periods of time, the more it is likely to grow on us. We can also bring mindfulness to walking at any speed in our everyday life, and even to running, though of course the pace of our steps and breath will change. In fact, over time, we can try to bring the same degree of awareness to any everyday activity, experiencing the sense of presence that is available to us at every moment as our lives unfold.
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