Movement as a vehicle for personal growth and awareness has been a long-standing practice in many traditions. Yoga, T’ai Chi, and Chi Gong are all meditative practices that use the body as a portal to experience a deeper sense of self by observing, feeling and guiding specific movements. You can transform walking into a meditative practice and learn to manage stress, relieve anxiety and deepen your sense of self.
Walking’s innumerable health benefits have been well-researched and documented. From a reduction in heart disease, cancer and diabetes to increased mental cognition to an overall sense of well being, walking 4-5 times a week for 30-60 minutes improves the quality of your life. When you add conscious awareness and focus you have a recipe for an even more profound transformation.
One of the goals of meditating is to tame the mind’s wanderings. In today’s world there are so many distractions and so much to keep up with on a daily basis. Giving the mind time to rest is crucial for it to function optimally. Generally, the mind jumps from one subject to another, like a monkey jumping from branch to branch, losing its focus and often entering the dangerous territory of fear and negativity. Meditation brings the mind back to the here and now and to a singular, calming focus.
When you use walking as a meditative practice you will focus on listening to and directing the movements of your body. In the process, thoughts and emotions may also come into your awareness. Rather than allowing these triggers to kidnap your mind, you will choose to redirect your mind to your body. A walking meditation practice allows a quiet, focused mind to become an integral part of your life, whether you are walking through your office halls, walking in your neighborhood after dinner, or walking for fitness.
Here is a list of mind/body focuses for you to work with that will transform your walking into a meditative practice. Focus on them one at a time. Experiment and see which focuses work best for you.
- Start with a brief standing meditation. Stand with your feet hip width apart and balance your weight evenly on both feet. Take the time to feel the stability of the ground beneath you. Take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes and do a body scan of your whole body, starting at your feet. Scan up your legs to your knees. Bend them slightly to create softness and buoyancy. Continue up through your body and notice any soreness, tension or energy moving through your body. Make note of any sensations, thoughts or feelings and take the time to explore the sensations fully. You don’t have to change anything, just “listen” and observe. Scan slowly all the way up your body to your face and head.
- Now, imagine a small ball of light in your head and slowly drop it down into your dantien (the Taoist term for your center), which is located about three finger widths below your naval and two inches in toward your spine. This is your physical center of mass, the center of your being in the Taoist tradition, and your powerhouse in Pilates. Your dantien is the primordial home of your chi, your life force energy. When you focus on this point you are centering yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. Nest the ball of light in your dantien. Think about keeping it safe there and that your “job” is to care for and nourish this ball of light.
- Begin to walk smoothly down the road with an awareness that you are carrying the ball of light in your center. You do not have to walk slowly or stiffly like a zombie. Maintain a brisk pace, but keep your speed within the bounds of being able to tend to the ball of light.
- Bend your elbows and let your arms swing naturally from relaxed shoulders. Your hands will swing to either side of your center, so use your hands to remind you to come back to the ball of light in your dantien when your mind begins to wander.
- Relax your whole body except for the energy field nesting the ball of light.
- Use a gentle bending of the knees to keep the walk smooth. Never lock your knees while walking.
- While nestling the ball of light in your dantien, extend the crown of your head into the sky above you while feeling your feet on the ground. In this way you will walk tall, grounded and centered.
- Allow the energy of your environment to come in your eyes and chest, and then drop that energy down into the ball of light, nourishing it, replenishing its energy. Notice the difference between losing yourself in your environment and creating a connection to your environment by focusing on the light within.
- Notice all thoughts, feelings and sensations. Let the thoughts and feelings move through you and focus on feeling the physical sensations and energy moving through your body.
- Always return your focus to the ball of light.
As you practice regularly you’ll create a sense of ritual and sanctity around your walking sessions. Soon, every time you walk, you will drop down into your center and “find yourself” in the center of your being, rather than in the machinations of the mind. Taking a walk with these focuses is a great way to ease tension while nurturing and caring for your self.
Founders and authors of Chi Running, Chi Walking and Chi Marathon