How I learned to love walking meditation
Walking meditation is highly regarded in the Buddhist meditation tradition and it partners wonderfully with formal sitting meditation practice. By alternating sitting and walking you can relieve tiredness and restlessness and make use of a natural activity to enhance mindfulness.
10-day retreats and slowing things down
When I was younger, many years before I became a LifeFlow meditation teacher, I undertook a number of 10-day retreats in the Burmese Buddhist meditation tradition. In this practice walking meditation, sitting meditation and moment-to-moment awareness of daily activities is integral and of equal importance.
We would awake in the early hours and begin mindfulness practice right through till 9pm bedtime. The day would start with one hour of walking meditation, followed by one hour of sitting practice watching the rise and fall of the breath at the belly, then back to walking again. Every movement throughout the day was slowed right down and as the retreat progressed, I became finely attuned to physical sensations and startlingly aware of my thoughts and feelings. Each day we would have to report to the Burmese meditation master what we had noticed in the three different areas of practice – while sitting, while walking and while undertaking daily activities.
In the interests of bringing a depth of understanding to the practice of walking meditation I will explain briefly how it was taught to me. However, just bringing awareness to whatever aspect of walking arises for you in a more simple and direct way, as we do at LifeFlow, is certainly beneficial and can bring a deep sense of calm.
Observing and naming
The Burmese method involves the observation and naming of 6 aspects of each step as you walk: Raising the heel / Lifting the foot / Pushing the foot / Dropping the foot / Touching the foot on the floor / Pressing the foot into the floor.
Awareness of this is built up during retreat, initially beginning with simply naming Left Right, Left Right while moving each foot mindfully. You might do this for 1 day before extending the observation and naming to Lifting, Pushing, Dropping for another day. Then Raising, Lifting, Pushing, Dropping for a day. Finally Raising, Lifting, Pushing, Dropping, Touching, Pressing. By this time you know what walking entails, there is ease of movement and you are intimately connected to the act of walking.
Seeing the intention
As the retreat continues and there is considerable heightened awareness, you then introduce noticing the Intention before each aspect of each step, ie Intention to raise, Raising, Intention to lift, Lifting and so on, so it then becomes a 12-step process. There may even unfold a flash of insight or a direct experience of intention in the mind. After a while there is no need to name at all, it is completely experiential, but for beginners the naming brings awareness to the finer details of walking and helps them to focus and reduce mental distractions.
Energy surges and effortless walking
The Burmese teacher would often refer to the various understandings that can be brought about through walking meditation and I did have a profound experience related to walking on one of these retreats and which still lingers all these years later. One day during practice I felt a powerful energy surging through my body coming down through the top of my head, right down through the soles of my feet and into the earth, very blissful. When the energy surge eventually subsided walking became effortless and weightless for the rest of the retreat and to this day whenever I do walking meditation a milder version of this experience is present.
Some people seem not to enjoy walking meditation when they first start, but I can assure you it becomes very enjoyable the more you do it, particularly when walking outside in nature, and as you become more and more in tune with the sensations of walking.