I recently have pressed my reset button, again, during this quarantine period. Part of my resetting will be to include a walking meditation to do with my children, husband and alone.
Meditation is the act of purposefully concentrating on a single point, while noticing sensations of the body and experiencing the environment.
The skill of meditation is easy and straight forward, but the mastery of performing meditation is challenging. Always, no matter how long, often or even “successful” your practice feels, every time you sit and meditate, you gain 100 percent benefit. Plus, each time you practice, you build upon the last time.
Generally, the mind is an over-active, highly stimulated part of ourselves that struggles to slow down. It seems as though the mind is a product of the brain and nervous system that is the convergence of our thoughts, feelings, memories, perceptions, instincts (gut reactions), behaviors and dreams. The act of focusing the mind on one point is to slow down the cadence (speed) of our thinking. In addition, it allows the mind and body to harmonize and synchronize together. The mind and body (via the nervous system) are always communicating involuntarily. Bringing the conscious mind “on-line” with the body and mind communication system, brings awareness, purposeful action and potential balance.
Conscious and deliberate breathing also has physiological benefits, too many to get into here, but it helps to know that taking deep breaths which engage the diaphragm (like when we blow up a balloon or blow out candles on a birthday cake) engages the parasympathetic (calm and relaxed state) nervous system. Sometimes, sitting for an extended period of time can be challenging so walking meditation is the perfect addition to any self-care or mindfulness practice.
Here is how you can practice Kinhin (Buddhism) walking meditation:
The focal point of the mind should be the coordination of steps and breathing pattern. It will be important to keep the ratio between steps and breath’s consistent. I personally include adding my vision slightly ahead of my feet and really see what is surrounding me. If it is the great outdoors, then I notice all of the beauty of nature.
When a thought pops into my head, I acknowledge that thought and then refocus and channel all of my attention on simply being completely in my body (steps, breathing and body sensations) and the environment around me. What do I hear, smell, see, and feel on my skin? I particularly notice the ground and my weight through my feet touching the ground and transitioning to one foot to the other. If you are practicing inside the house, consider walking clockwise around a room.
Traditionally, ones hand would be closed in a fist with the other hand on top, creating a circle or mudra (seal). If this is comfortable for you, great, otherwise allow the arms to rest and swing comfortably/naturally by your sides.
Each step is in sync with the breath. Your pace can change each time you practice and can be quick or very slow. Evaluate what you need at any given time.
Sometimes I add my mantra meditation with my walking. Using the three Guna’s (Guna’s are quality states or energy levels) as an indicator of what pace your practice may need and how to enhance it with the kind of breath used, can be useful.
Here is a little information on breathing: How we breathe can also counter balance or maintain our energy state. Research has shown that inhalations that last 5-6 seconds with exhalations that last equally as long engage the parasympathetic nervous system. If you are overly anxious or agitated, inhaling for 5-6 seconds followed by exhaling for 6-7 seconds will reduce the anxiety response in the body and nervous system. Equal breaths will maintain a balanced energy state (homeostatic or equilibrium). Exhaling faster with longer inhalations can increase the volume of oxygen to the brain and increase blood flow to the entire body (perfect for when you are feeling Tamasic energy).
Examples of how to pair energy with breathing and steps:
Raja is passionate, overly energetic and fast pace; Inhale 5-6 then exhale 6-7; slower walking
Sattva is purity, even energy and harmonious; Inhale 5-6 then exhale 5-6; balanced steps with breathing
Tamas is dullness, low energy and inactivity; Inhale 6-7 with rapid exhales (Kabalabhti breathing); quicker steps.
Sometime if I feel very Rajasic (high energy) I may walk more slowly or if I am feeling Tamasic, I will pick up my pacing. Here are examples of step breath pacing:
*Four steps per 1 cycle of breath. Or Inhale right then left step, exhale right then left step.
* One step (right then left) per 1 cycle of breath. In other words, Inhale your right foot step, then exhale your left foot step.
The ratio is not important, and you can be as creative as you desire! Choose a pacing to match or counter your energy level and be consistent throughout that practice. Each time will be different and your needs will change. What is important is synchronizing your breath (engaging the diaphragm) and your steps. Start out with walking for 5 minutes. You can always shorten or lengthen the time. Feel free to use this practice walking from your car to the grocery store. The awesome thing is that it takes nothing to do, no one will know you are doing it, you will gain lots of benefits and you can do it many times in a day. YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO TAKE ANY EXTRA TIME for the practice or away from people. Or, you can use it as an excuse for alone time.
It will be important to remember to relax the muscles of your body; particularly the face, neck and shoulders. Throughout your walking meditation, check in on the status of the body’s muscle tension. Focus on letting go or pouring any tension held in the body through the exhalation and allowing it to exit the body through your feet into the ground.
Walking meditation can help reduce and regulate cortisol levels in the blood stream. Research shows that physical meditative practices like Tai Chi and walking meditation are linked with the production of catecholamines, which are the brains ability to manage stress. Walking in general supports bone development and all movement increases natural joint lubrication, which improves joint health. Mental attributes of meditation is being able to focus attention on a single point. Having this ability gains you control and mastery over your mind and increases your ability to concentrate. Expanding your ability of self-awareness and concentration enables you to be more skillful in thought, feeling and action. Plus, you are more efficient in performance. The benefits of breathing will have to wait for another blog post.