By now everybody out there is aware that meditation has a wide range of positive benefits for our health. A consistent mediation practice helps us reduce stress, slow down the ageing process, as well as improve concentration, sleep, our self-awareness, and acceptance. Because the process of meditation improves parasympathetic tone (induces relaxation), it does promote cardiovascular health and it also encourages the immune system to work correctly (super helpful for anyone with autoimmunity). But that is the thing. The main key word in this entire paragraph is CONSISTENT.
The effects of meditation are cumulative and even though many people appreciate that, how many people do you know who have a consistent meditation practice? The truth is that you will enjoy the benefits with as little as 15 minutes per day (although more in this case is better), yet how many of us do it regularly? When I quiz my clients on this, most of them will say: “I know it is super beneficial and I should do it regularly but....”
Most of the time, the actual “but” has to do with people not really believing meditation can make a REAL difference to their health, not valuing themselves enough to justify taking 15 minutes out of their day to meditate, or not being sure they are doing it right (therefore avoiding it altogether). However, there is also another common “but”. Many people think that for meditation to “count”, they need to sit quietly for ages and “empty their mind”. This is a complete myth but a very common belief that creates resistance and puts people off meditation.
Let us deal with the “empty mind” myth first. Meditating is not really about stopping our thoughts and making our mind empty. If you have ever tried to do that, then you know that this approach is counter-productive and invites even more internal noise. Obviously, we do not want that as that will potentially make the whole experience stressful and we are aiming to calm our HPA axis here, not send it into overdrive! However, you can decide how much attention you want to give to those thoughts that appear. If you just observe them as they are, without attaching any meaning to them (they are neither good nor bad), they will come and go and you will observe that there are gaps between those thoughts. Those spaces are what counts. As you may be aware, in meditation you often use a point of focus, e.g. breath, imagery, which helps produce and maintain the relaxed state.
Now let us talk about sitting quietly. Sure, if that appeals to you, then that is a great way to meditate. However, that is definitely not essential to produce a meditative state and make your meditation count. This is why I decided to write this piece for you. To share with you my favourite kind of meditation: walking meditation. For me personally, walking meditation works best when I am connecting with nature. For me the best and most regenerating environment is either mountains or forest. Having said that, walking meditation can actually be done in your own living room, in a car park on your lunch break, or using stairs at work or at home!
I love walking meditation and I find that even a short session can ground me, revive my body, restore my mental focus, or whatever I need at the time. The most important thing when practising walking meditation is to learn to be self-aware as you walk and use the movement of walking to promote mindfulness. As I have already mentioned, you can do it anywhere and you can either move there and back between two points, or simply move from A to B.
Here are the steps that take you through your walking meditation practice:
Step 1: Decide how you can incorporate this into your everyday life
As we said earlier, if you want this to have a real impact on your health and life, you need to do it regularly. Could this be how you start your day, or maybe it can be part of your lunch break? Commit to 15 minutes per day for 30 days to begin with and see what difference this makes to the way you feel physically and mentally. Remember that in addition to meditation, you are incorporating some movement into your day at the same time.
Step 2: Choose your location
If you decide to practice walking meditation between two points, find some space (inside or outside) where you can walk back and forth for 10-15 steps. If you are walking from A to B, plan your route in advance.
Step 3: Start walking
Walk 10-15 steps in one direction, pause and breathe deeply and slowly for as long as you like. Then turn and walk back to your starting point, pause and breathe again before you turn around. Continue for 15 minutes. If you are walking from A to B, walk with awareness and pause and breathe whenever you want to. The important thing is that you are thinking about a series of actions that you normally do automatically. Break your steps down (and be mindful of it) in the following way: lift one foot, move your foot forward, place your foot on the floor (heal first), shift the weight of the body onto the front leg (your back heel lifts while your toes are still on the floor), and so on. Feel each and every step mindfully as you walk. Notice any other movement of your body, e.g. body shifting from side to side. Do this slowly but naturally, whilst keeping your arms in whatever position they are most comfortable.
Step 4: Focus your attention
As you walk, in addition to being mindful of each step you take, focus your attention on one or more of the following: your breath coming in and out of your body, sounds around you or those caused by the movement of your body (without labelling them – just observe), smells, colours, shapes. Be aware that inevitably your mind will wonder at times, despite your points of focus. That is ok. This is natural. When you notice your mind wandering, simply refocus it on one of those sensations again.
Step 5: Set an intention for the rest of your day
When you are ready to end your walking meditation, stand still for a moment and as you finish, choose your intention for the rest of your day, i.e. what are you hoping for?
I hope you are going to give it a try and you enjoy the amazing benefits that come with having a walking meditation practice! I would love to hear from you.