Why walking meditation?

I took up daily sitting meditation practice two years ago when I found the nature of my work shifting more and more to spending hours mindfully attending to very subtle details. As many people nowadays, I would find my mind drifting while I was in the midst of significant tasks with my clients. A large part of being a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner is attending to the present time unfolding of events that happen in my clients’ bodies – having my mind wondering was not an option. I deeply value my work and being able to support my clients better was enough to motivate me to stick through the first couple of months, when not much was happening. But two years later things have really shifted.

I am happy to report that what started as short 10 minute bouts of mindfulness practice slowly unfolded into 20, 30 and hour sessions. Over time it became easier to sit and stay alert and open to what was coming up in my body and mind, but the greatest benefit is that I am more awake in all areas of my life. That focus that initially motivated me to start meditation practice – it deepened significantly. I have been able to enjoy the exact benefits I was hoping for – staying on task longer, being able to observe and note subtle changes, being a better listener and creating a healthy and receptive space for my clients.

We believe so much in the practice of mindfulness that we dedicated a couple of chapters to it in our book! You may remember “Meditate on this”, “Let it Go” and “How to end a bad day well”. Why would we write so much about it? Because like tending to your body, tending to your mind is e key component of health – and in our fast paced crazy world full of so many external and internal distractions, having a mind that listens to you largely determines the quality of your life.

Even with a solid established practice, last year I found my practice started suffering around the holidays. It was right around the time that we launched “Chill Holidays” and I was recording daily short lessons for our students. Maybe you relate to what I experienced. Sitting meditation would come easier in those times when I had relative peace, life was in flow and I was not facing huge challenges. But with the holidays, there was more stress, more expenses, more travel, more preparations in our home. While our life was rich with many amazing holiday experiences, it became harder to wake up and pull my cushion, sit and just drop into what’s was my body.

And herein lies the paradox of last year, that is proving true this year: the times when I most need to attend to my inner world are also the times when I am least wanting to do it, because there is so much to do. How could I meet my need for peace and internal ease with less time? I decided to just get myself off the cushion and take things outside.

For the second year in a row around the holidays I am choosing to do walking meditations instead of sitting meditations. It’s a way for me to combine two of my favorite ways to stay connected with myself at a time when walking comes easier than sitting. This way my walk to the store can become an opportunity to drop in and be with myself and attend to emotions, thoughts, sensations, connections that are tugging at my heart. I can do it on my way to or from work. I can do it while walking Roland.

Here is how I set up for a walking meditation:

  1. I choose a path that is visually pleasing, one that allows me to enjoy scenery and beautiful plants. We are fortunate to have many flowering plants well into winter here in California and there are a couple of paths in our neighborhood that offer incredible encounters with roses and birds of paradise. But even if your walk is on an urban street, choose an area that has some attraction to you and gives you visual pleasure. When I was little my mom and I would walk around looking for a house that was beautiful and we would imagine decorating it and what would it be like to live in it – that made our walks more exciting and adventurous.
  2. I choose what I would like to focus my attention on that day. I usually choose one of thee anchors for my walks. An anchor is a place to return to when your thought life gets busy or you get distracted – just like a boat comes back to its anchor. On some walks, I choose to attend to my breath, as I walk and become aware of certain thoughts, events, sensations, emotions or connections, I keep my awareness on my breath. This way I have a line connecting my attention to my breath and my whole experience organizes around it. As my mind wanders, or I get distracted I just bring my attention to my breath. A second anchor may be the ground. As I walk, I feel my contact with the ground- right, left, right, left…aware of the textures under my feet. You get it – mind wanders – I bring myself back to the sensations under my feet. A third anchor may be the colors around me – as my attention drifts I always come back to the colors and notice – here is red, here is yellow. You can choose your own way to organize your walking meditations, and make this idea your own.
  3. I note how I feel before and after. This can be a more elaborate body scan – noticing areas of constriction, tightness, aching, openness, calmness, peace, ease…or a more general one – do you feel better, less well, or the same…it’s the noticing that matters more than what we find – bringing a kind nonjudgmental awareness to the body is what develops the parts of the brain that have to do with focus and attention.

So should you try it? I think so…even if it’s walking through a parking lot! Practicing walking meditation is all about setting the right intention and can really transform how you feel through the holidays. To make it easier, I am sharing one of the walking meditations from our holiday program. Have a listen.