Fundamentally, walking meditation is as straightforward as it sounds. Combine the action of walking with the practice of meditation. Go find a quiet forest path to enlightenment, and return a new creature.
In reality, a few key approaches use walking meditation for slightly different purposes. Different approaches may apply slightly different methods to achieve different goals. The 3 most familiar traditions that incorporate walking meditation include:
- Mindfulness Based Stressed Reduction (MBSR)
- Buddhist-based approaches
- Yogic traditions
If you are unfamiliar with the core concepts of these meditation traditions, you may want to check out:
Walking Meditation: Goals
The various programs share a few common goals.
All three approaches advocate walking meditation as a means to bring greater awareness of the body and its activities. Body awareness includes noticing sensation of things like pressure- the flow of pressure changes in the feet and toes as they press against and come off the ground. Awareness can extend to changes in sensation in the process of movement as well. In addition to the movement of the feet, legs, and other parts of the body, several approaches also guide you to notice the changes and flow of breath in the body. General body awareness practices like walking meditation are related to increased relaxation, concentration, and improved stress management.
Awareness of thought/intent
Additionally, these traditions use walking meditation as a means of cultivating mindfulness of thought and intent in one way or another. This most often comes in the form of noticing the choosing/willing to act through the various movements of walking. Thoughts that arise against the background of walking also become the objects of attention. Their arising and passing become things to notice. Of the 3 most common traditions, yogic walking meditation may emphasize this aspect less than the others.
You’ll also see some common methods at play across walking meditation styles.
Break each step into micro-movements
Walking can become so familiar and routine that we fail to notice that it is actually a constant flow of sub-activities. Walking is a collection of picking up a foot, shifting body weight from one leg to another. It is visual in terms of choosing direction, speed, distance, and other factors. Most of the movements and acts involved in walking can be noticed in further detail. Walking meditation instruction may also invite you to notice when the foot is planted firmly on the ground, when it leaves the ground, when it is raised and moved forward, and when it touches the ground again. Subtle details can be noticed throughout this process.
Notice intention, desires, thoughts, and other mental objects/activities
Different teachings will likely instruct you to notice different things at different stages of progress. Some yogic traditions, for example may initially emphasize concentration on a set pattern of breaths per steps. Some of the Buddhist writings talk of walking meditation as a building of connection between body and Earth. These teachers may instruct students to focus on that connection, or assume the connection is a natural result of the things being noticed during walking. More advanced practitioners may experience the freedom to simply notice any and all of the items that pass through the mind- everything from body sensations to thoughts.
For further reading
To learn more about the preliminary teachings behind walking meditation,
Walking Meditation: Peace Is Every Step. It Turns the Endless Path to Joy by Thich Nhat Hanh. Guidance from a globally respected Buddhist teacher.
Walking Meditation by Greater Good In Action. This walks you through (pun intended) the basic instructions related to MBSR walking meditation.
Walking Meditation by Yoga International. The article outlines an introductory approach to yogic breathing and walking meditation practice.