It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return–prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again–if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man–then you are ready for a walk.
~ Walking by Henry David Thoreau
I have an admission to make: I’m a terrible yogi. My poses aren’t always exact, I don’t practice regularly, and I can’t stay focused.
While I often practice at home, I do have a couple of teachers I work with on rare occasion, both of whom remind me to accept where I am and to be at peace with my own yoga style.
In the past year, I’ve supplemented my yoga practice with walking meditation (which is exactly what it sounds like). I work for myself and find it quite hard to truly relax and clear my mind, but with walking meditation, I get some clear head space and a bit of physical fitness at the same time. Here are some of my lessons learned that you can incorporate into your routine.
1. Choosing a route is really, really important.
On a good walk, when really clearing my mind and trying to deepen my breathing, I can totally zen out. And, while zen, I have tripped over many curbs in my neighborhood. Thankfully no bruises except to my ego! I also prefer routes with fewer pedestrians and bikes, so I can enjoy the open space.
The best routes for a walking meditation are biking/hiking trails where you don’t have to worry too much about traffic or big curbs, allowing you to focus on the task at hand. It sounds obvious, but I missed the memo the first couple of times.
2. Ditch the smartphone (or go airplane mode).
The urge to check my smartphone is so great that I really can’t go on a meditative walk with it. But, I like to have the timer and be able to use the phone if needed, so when I do bring it, I put it into airplane mode.
Personally, I don’t like to go on my walks with music – I find my mind can slip into the zone much faster and longer without any tunes. You might be different; I do encourage you to try a few walks without headphones before you write it off.
3. It’s about going deep, not walking far.
In my experience, it is better to do 2 laps around the neighborhood dog park and get a deep sense of clarity instead of walking a few miles just to get the mileage in. This is a walking meditation, not a power walk. Don’t worry about how fast you walk or how far you go. Focus on what is happening on the inside.
4. Speaking of focus, start from your feet and end with the top of your head.
Walking meditation is a meditation, so the focus is internal. Start with your feet – notice how they feel hitting the ground. Notice the feeling, the rhythm, of your legs in motion. How fast is your heartbeat? Are your arms relaxed – how do they swing?
Just like in yoga, clarify your breathing: deep, steady breaths. Focus on those feelings of your feet and legs and hands in motion, which will help clear your mind.
5. Make your walking meditation what you want it to be.
You have permission to make your walking meditation whatever you want it be. Make it what you need. Some people will say that it’s not really meditation. But if you’re getting the peace of mind and mental relief you need, does it matter what anyone thinks?