Meditation, as a practice, distracts us from our normal auto-pilot thought patterns and gives us a better understanding of how our minds work. It’s often the distraction itself that allows us space to mentally relax, which is why something as simple as pausing to take a deep breath can help us relax and refocus.
Whether we know it or not, we already meditate in our daily life activities. Every time we modify our behavior to censor ourselves around children, we’re meditating. We’re also meditating when we adjust our behavior with different family members, different friends, in our work environments, etc. These are examples of how we naturally integrate meditation into our human lives.
We also have other opportunities to extend our natural meditation by participating in activities that distract us from our normal auto-pilot thought patterns. Among these activities are practicing yoga, tai chi, or any other activity which demands our focused attention. By purposely paying extra attention to ordinary bodily movements we can turn almost anything into meditation, such our favorite health club exercises, playing active sports, or going for a walk…which brings us to the topic of walking meditation.
Perhaps the greatest overall benefit of walking meditation is how it can prepare us for what’s next in our life. As an example, imagine you’re on campus and need to walk to your next class. You can incorporate the principals of walking meditation as you walk across campus to mentally prepare yourself for that next class.
To get started with walking meditation, just start walking in the direction you want to go for 30 seconds or so, then pay attention to your speed and how it naturally matches your mental speed. If your mind is racing because you’re feeling agitated or worried, you will find that you are walking at a pretty fast pace. If you’re feeling depressed or tired, you will find yourself naturally moving much more slowly. Because the mind and body are not separate, they naturally try to sync up with each other. There are very practical reasons for this, such as when we’re running our bodies need to make quick adjustments to avoid obstacles, so our mind naturally speeds up to assist. In the same way, when we slow down, our mind will also slow down to keep in sync.
Now let’s use what we’ve learned to our practical advantage. If you started off walking fast, slow your pace little by little until you’re walking a little slower than you normally do. You’ll notice that your mind will also begin to slow down to get in sync. If you find yourself walking slow, speed up your pace little by little until you’re walking briskly. Notice how your mind also begins to speed up.
By simply adjusting our gait we can either slow our mind down to calm our agitation and enhance our concentration or speed our minds up to refresh ourselves if we’re feeling tired or depressed. We can even use a combination to wake ourselves up when we’re feeling tired, then slow again to regain our ability to concentrate, which is a favorite technique I learned as a Buddhist Monk in Thailand.
The best part of walking meditation is that we don’t even need to walk to use these principles. We can use the pace of anything we do in the same way as adjusting the pace we walk. Consider my example above regarding gently tapping our fingers on our something as we pay attention to them. Just like we move when we are walking, paying attention when moving them really fast will speed up our thought processing and slowing down until we are moving our fingers very slowly will slow down our thought processing.
Using the principals of walking meditation is an easy way to relieve stress, refresh your tired mind, and prepare yourself for the next chapter in your day, and in your life.