Walking meditation is a great complement to our sitting meditation practice. We can utilise walking meditation to balance the tendency for striving to arise in the sitting meditation while still cultivating mindfulness effectively.
Walking meditation also acts as a bridge towards mindfulness in daily life, as it is closer to our normal everyday state. It is also a great antidote to the hindrance of drowsiness and sleepiness as it tends to increase energy and aid digestion. Walking meditation also gives the advantage of producing more obvious sensations in the body, which helps us stay with body & mind in the moment.
I will outline a general walking meditation that you can use as a complement to your Vipassana practice. Any technique done on the cushion can also be translated to walking meditation, sometimes with some slight modifications. For example, I have practiced syncing awareness of the breath with walking steps or labelling and open awareness while walking. Below, I outline walking meditation as a complement to the Vipassana practice I outline in the 10-day Vipassana at Home course.
Find a quiet and clear space where you can walk back and forth in a straight line for ~5 meters. A less visually stimulating environment makes it easier to stay focused.
It is better to be in socks or barefoot to be able to feel sensations in your feet.
Using a timer is crucial for walking meditation so we don't get distracted and go do something else. A great way to do it is to set an X minute timer for walking, followed by a gong and X minutes of sitting meditation. Insight timer has an interval function. A 1:1 or 1:2 split of walking:sitting is a good starting point.
Hold your hands in front of you or behind your back, one hand clasping the other's wrist. The lower hand can hang freely or hold a fold in your pants or t-shirt.
Your eyes can be open (closed is also OK if you can balance), but they should be lowered below eye-level, relaxed and unfocused, letting your gaze look at nothing in particular. Eyesight becomes secondary and sensations take priority.
We try to minimise any extra movements as they distract us and interrupt the continuity of mindfulness. Just like in sitting, try not to scratch or fidget but stay in the posture.
Our posture should be upright but relaxed. Straight spine with the crown of the head gently reaching up while the rest of the body, especially the face, shoulders, arms, and hands are relaxed.
You'll find yourself standing at the beginning and end of the meditation, and before and after your turns at the end of your walking line. When you are standing, feel the sensations of standing.
Feel your body parts touching each other or the ground (hands, arms, feet, lips). Feel the small movements of muscles in legs and feet to stay upright ("the small dance with gravity"). Feel any other sensations in the body. You can even do a quick body-scan when you are standing. Feel standing for 20 to 60 seconds until you éstablish mindfulness of the body.
Begin walking. Walk slowly, deliberately. Walking as if in slow-motion. In the beginning, you might lose your balance a lot, especially when thinking about something else. Walk with one leg at a time. One foot should be flat on the ground at all times.
Feel the sensations in and on the body. Feel your touching body-parts, feel the feet touching the ground, feel the small muscles balancing you. Feel the larger muscles in the legs, hips, and even the spine moving. Sometimes you can also feel the body as a whole. Basically, keep a keen awareness of physical sensations. Just like while sitting, stay away from imagining, visualising, verbalising. Get closer to feeling the raw, actual sensory data.
When you reach the end of the walking line, stop and feel standing as outlined above. After feeling standing, slowly start turning, one foot at a time, always turning in the same direction. Feel any sensations as you turn.
After your turn, feel standing again as above. Establish mindfulness of the body before beginning to walk again.
As you intend to keep your awareness on body sensations, invariably, many thoughts will come up and you will get distracted and lost in them at times. As with sitting, try to notice these sooner rather than later. When you noticed you were lost in thought, just simply come back to body sensations. No need to judge or scold yourself. Celebrate the fact you "woke up" from your daydreams. We don't need to focus so hard that we suppress thinking from arising. Thinking is natural and we can allow it to be there in the background.
At times, sounds, sights, and smells may attract your attention. Try to notice this and come back to body sensation. While they are also present moment sensory input but they tend to quickly create stories and cause us to think about them.
Cultivating - Bhavana
As in our sitting practice, we develop the qualities of awareness & equanimity while finding the middle way between over-efforting and slacking. The principles stay the same as in sitting practice. You can find them here "Continuing the Practice".
Cultivate continuity of awareness of body sensations. Cultivate seeing more details of sensations e.g. noticing micro-movements of the toes, of muscles involved in balancing, of different sections of your feet touching the ground. Cultivate acceptance & equanimity. If you feel pain or pleasure, liking or disliking. If you like your meditation or you don't like it. Accept and surrender to what is here & now.
Learn about yourself and understand mind & body to realise freedom & happiness!
Written October 31, 2022