For many of us, the thought of sitting still for 20 minutes and meditating in silence seems like a laborious task. But with all the research of late touting its powerful benefits — everything from stress relief and lower blood pressure to better sleep and longevity — it would be a shame not to tap into the positive effects of mindfulness and meditation.
After attending a six-day yoga and meditation camp, I fell into a nice rhythm of starting my day by meditating for 20 minutes. This pattern lasted six months, and I can honestly say it immensely altered my state of mind. Alas, I got sidetracked, thinking I was too busy to follow this morning routine. When I found myself making the excuse that I just didn’t have enough time, I remembered what Dr. Deepak Chopra said during one of his lectures that I attended: “If you say you don’t have time for meditation, then you are definitely the type of person who needs it most.”
Determined to return to my practice, I decided to try a walking meditation, which sounded more appealing than sitting still for 20 minutes. For anyone who has concerns about being restless or overwhelmed by the concept of saying a mantra over and over again, walking meditations can be a great gateway to a profound meditative experience. Vietnamese monk, poet and Zen meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known advocate for walking mediations, believes that one can find great joy and inner calm in mindful walking.
As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Each mindful breath, each mindful step, reminds us that we are alive on this beautiful planet.”
To get started, plan to take at least a 15-minute walk, if not longer. During your stroll, there should be no goal, no purpose, no absolute direction — rather, the experience is about being in the present moment, fully aware of your body. As you walk (and I highly recommend that you choose a quiet, natural place like a garden, beach or forest), the mind should focus on the breath and the body. The eyes should be wide open, taking in the surroundings — but do not allow yourself to be distracted. Focus on the walking, the motions of the body. A slow pace allows you to be aware of every step. Feel the soles of your feet connect to the earth. Take in everything around you without judgement. Just be in the moment. Experience walking. You’ll be surprised how much we take for granted — how we cruise through life so unaware.
If you mind becomes engaged with mundane thoughts, just return your focus to your breath and the body moving through space. Notice the details around you — the flowers or sounds of the waves and gulls or wind in the trees. Scan your body as you move, recognizing each body part and how it feels. If you feel tension, let it go. Swing your arms, your hips. Find your rhythm.
Hanh says, “You don’t have to make any effort during walking meditation, because it is enjoyable. You are there, body and mind together. You are fully alive, fully present in the here and the now. With every step, you touch the wonders of life that are in you and around you. When you walk like that, every step brings healing. Every step brings peace and joy, because every step is a miracle.”
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Journalist Ann Wycoff has written about wellness, fitness, longevity, travel, spas, food and wine for the past 20 years for magazines like Shape, Fitness, Spa, Outside, Travel + Leisure, Coastal Living, Redbook, Modern Luxury, San Diego Magazine, Redbook, Marin Magazine and more. She lives in Encinitas, California.