The rhythm of walking meditation generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. This creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. – Rebecca Solnit
The Path to Inner Peace: Walking Meditation for Stress Relief and Anxiety Reduction
- An 8-minute read
- Audio recording of this article
- Downloadable pdf with Walking Meditation Instructions
Stress is part of modern-day living. We can not avoid stress. A reasonable amount of stress can even be good for us, helping us to perform at our best. We get into trouble when the stress we are subjected to becomes unbearable. This specific amount varies from person to person. Person A might think a certain amount of stress is unbearable, person B might not even notice. It depends a lot on what else is going on in our lives. If we have to cope with stress at work as well as at home, we will feel stressed sooner than someone who has a peaceful home life. When stress continues over a period of time, even if varies in intensity during that period, it can damage our physical and/or mental health.
Walking meditation can be a useful tool for cultivating mindfulness and reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also help to improve balance, coordination, and overall physical and psychological well-being.
Walking meditation is an integral part of Esprit Meraki’s Camino de Santiago de Compostella retreats and the Mindfulness and Meditation with Horses retreats that I host here at my 200-year-old farmhouse in the sun-blessed south of France, as well as some of my Online Retreats.
Walking Meditation: My Teacher was a Horse
When Aurore (Rorie to her close friends) was a foal, I spent a lot of time introducing her to the world so that she would grow up to be a confident and contented adult horse. One of the ways I did this, was to take her for long walks through the countryside, along the vineyards, past the lakes, into the woods, across the meadows and around the local orchards, first with her mother and later on her own.
Now Rorie was never really going to be an easy-to-intimidate horse. Although she is insatiably curious about every new thing she comes across, she is not stupid, so she is always very careful to inspect every new thing in detail before she makes up her mind about whether it is threatening to her in any way, or not.
Rorie’s curious-but-cautious approach to life made walking along a country path with her an exercise in mindfulness. A hundred paces might take her thirty or more minutes because she had to inspect every grass poll and every blade of grass in every grass poll. She would sniff it and if it smelled appetising, she would take a bite If it tasted good, she would eat it. We had to stop so that she could look closely at every butterfly fluttering by, at every bee gathering pollen in a flower, at every bird building a nest in a tree…and then we had to pause so that she could reflect on each of these new experiences. We certainly were going nowhere fast. And if a tractor should come by! The ever-so-patient neighbouring farmers eventually realised that they had to stop each time they drove past Rorie so that she could inspect their tractors – especially if the tractor had a piece of equipment attached that Rorie did not recognise. (Which was quite interesting to me too, I always wondered what all the different bits and pieces were for – now I know.)
The reason why I mentioned Rorie’s intrepid forays into the French countryside, is because it was while walking Rorie that I first started practising walking meditation. Never having enough minutes in the day, I thought that I might as well see if I can use our time together more effectively and combine the walk with a bit of meditation. This was when I found out that it is not only possible to walk and meditate at the same time, but that walking meditation is a widely practised meditation technique and that there was a lot of information available online about how to go about it.
From A to Zen: A Guide to Walking Meditation
What is walking meditation?
Jack Kornfield, writes in his book The Wise Heart, that walking meditation is a simple practice for developing calmness, connectedness, and embodied awareness. Walking meditation involves focusing one’s attention on the present moment and the physical sensations of walking, such as the movement of the body and the sensation of the feet touching the ground.
Walking meditation can be done either indoors or outdoors, in nature or in town and at any pace, as long as you can maintain a focused state of mind. According to Rebecca Solnit, walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go. I agree. One of my favourite things, when I am in a foreign city, is to get up early and walk the empty streets, especially if it had rained the night before.
Walking meditation is an excellent exercise in mindfulness. Can’t recommend it highly enough. I read that Plato and Aristotle did much of their brilliant thinking together while ambulating. The movement, the meditation, the health of the blood pumping, and the rhythm of footsteps…this is a primal way to connect with one’s deeper self, insists Paula Cole
Søren Kierkegaard warned, Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.
Like Edie Littlefield Sundby, I love to walk. Walking is a spiritual journey and a reflection of living. Each of us must determine which path to take and how far to walk; we must find our own way, what is right for one may not be for another.
Nhat Hanh said, Walk so that your footprints bear only the marks of complete freedom. To do this you have to learn to let go. Let go of your sorrows, let go of your worries. That is the secret of walking meditation. I find it very difficult to let go, so walking meditation with one of my horses is essential to my wellbeing.
During my Mindfulness and Meditation with Horses retreats, I encourage my guests to try walking meditation by walking up and down the rows in the vineyards surrounding the farm. This makes for the minimum outside distraction, allowing my guests to enjoy walking outside without having to concentrate on the path itself. My guests also do walking meditation with the horses, following in Aurore’s footsteps. I encourage them to pay particular attention to how fully aware the horses are of their own bodies and at the same time of their environment.
How do you practice Walking Meditation?
Sitting Meditation a Challenge? Try Walking Meditation
Many people find sitting still in the same position for an extended period of time difficult, either because they find it difficult to concentrate while sitting still (here I am thinking specifically about kinesthetic learners – people who can only learn if they can move at the same time – these people would have been scolded as school children for constant fidgeting) or because they have a physical condition, like arthritis, that makes sitting still painful.
For these people, walking meditation is an ideal solution. Walking meditation benefits both the body and the mind (as do most forms of meditation) but here you have the added benefit of slow and sustained movement, encouraging blood flow and muscle and joint mobilisation. Some people also say that they find it easier to be intensely aware of what is going on in their bodies while they are walking, than while they are sitting still. Concentrating on your body while walking can also make you aware of your posture when walking and can inspire you to walk with better posture and less tension, even when you are not meditating.
Expand Your Knowledge
Recommended Resources and Reading for a Deeper Understanding of Walking Meditation
- “The Art of Walking: A Guide to Finding Your Natural Ease in Motion” by Adam Ford
- “The Mindful Walker: Rediscovering the Simple Path to a Fuller Life” by Hugh O’Donovan
- “Walking Meditation: How to Do It and Why It Is So Beneficial” by Anh Huong Nguyen and Thich Nhat Hanh
- “The Tao of Walking: 101 Meditations for the Mind, Body, and Spirit” by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer
- “Walking Your Blues Away: How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being” by Thom Hartmann
- “The Art of Mindful Walking: Meditations on the Path” by Adam Ford
- “Walking Meditation: Peace is Every Step. It Turns the Endless Path to Joy” by Thich Nhat Hanh
- “The Way of Walking: Eastern Strategies for Vitality, Longevity, and Peace of Mind” by Jacques Moramarco and Eric Kiener
- In Mindfulness and Meditation Options, my own book, I devote a whole chapter to walking meditation. Each chapter starts with a letter from a potential workshop participant, explaining her problem(s.) Each chapter offers a potential solution based on mindfulness and meditation.
- Reading books about walking meditation can provide valuable insights and guidance on the practice, as well as offer a variety of perspectives and approaches to walking meditation, drawing on the experiences and wisdom of teachers and practitioners from different backgrounds and traditions. Reading about the benefits of walking meditation and the science behind it can also help to motivate you to incorporate the practice into your daily life. Overall, reading books about walking meditation, especially “Walking Meditation: How to Do It and Why It Is So Beneficial” by Anh Huong Nguyen and Thich Nhat Hanh, can be a valuable complement to the practice itself, helping you to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of this powerful form of meditation.
In conclusion, walking meditation is a simple yet effective way to cultivate mindfulness, reduce stress, and improve physical and psychological health. It allows us to connect with our bodies, with nature, with horses, and the present moment in a way that is often difficult to achieve in our busy lives. Whether practised alone, in a group or with a horse, walking meditation offers a unique opportunity to slow down, breathe deeply, and mindfully appreciate the beauty and wonder of our surroundings. With its many benefits and ease of practice, walking meditation is a valuable tool for anyone looking to enhance their physical, mental, and emotional resilience.
©Dr Margaretha Montagu MBChB MRCGP EAGALA Cert MedHyp Dip Master NLP Pract Transformative Life Coach Dip
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