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A Practice for Body & Soul
Let’s get our body and our spirit working together. Too often spiritual practice is static and still. While that can be great for some people there are times we all need to have our whole self working together. Walking meditation is found in many spiritual traditions around the world and there’s good reason for that. Engaging the body in our spiritual practice is a valuable tool for whole living, and for deeper spiritual experience. The truth is we are not just disembodied spirits who have been temporarily saddled with an inconvenient meat package. We are body/soul beings who are as much cells blood and bone as we are thought and spirit.
Today we are engaging our whole selves. We will be moving, which is great news for those of you who find sitting still deeply challenging. We won’t be power walking though, we will be moving slowly and deliberately and we will be using the same techniques we use in other forms of meditation to center and focus our mind and spirit. If you are new at meditation this practice can be a great way to begin. There are no fitness requirements for walking meditation, it isn’t a race and there are no prizes for distance traveled in minimum time.
So let’s get to it. You can do this right now. Read through the simple “how to” that follows and give it a try. Five minutes is all you need. If we’re honest we all have five minutes, so take a deep breath, set your phone’s timer and get started.
Walking Meditation How To
Stand as straight and tall as you can and take a few deep breathes in through your nose, hold for a three count, and then let the air whoosh out of your mouth. Repeat this process a few times. Pay attention to the way your body feels as you breath, to the movement of your diaphragm, the expansion of your rib cage, the feel of air rushing through your nostrils or over your lips. Set aside whatever else is going on in your life, you have set a timer, you cannot go over time or miss the next important thing that is happening so let yourself wholly relax into this practice.
If you bring a specific intention to this practice, a person who is on your heart, a question, a desire to meet the Divine within yourself, now is the time to hold that intention in your mind. Let it become part of the flow of your breath and offer it firmly as the focus and reason behind what you will do next.
Begin in a place you can comfortable walk at least five or six paces in a single direction. You could do this down your sidewalk, across your living room, or in your back yard. It is best to chose ground that is easy to walk across and not too uneven. The point of the exercise is not to see how well you can tackle downed trees or big holes! Stand comfortably, feet together or shoulder width apart depending on your ability to balance, the wider you plant your feet the easier balance will be. Be aware of the muscles in your core helping you to stay upright and balanced, be aware of your arms hanging loosely at your sides.
And begin. Remember, don’t rush. Lift one foot at a time slowly off the ground, swing it forward and comfortable distance and place it down, the heel should touch the ground first and your weight should roll forward slowly to the ball of your foot. Be aware of how those motions feel, of the way your weight changes and shifts. Take another step and pay attention to the places in your body that are, without you thinking about it, keeping you upright and balanced. Move as slowly as you can, but not so slowly that you are in danger of falling. Your coordination and balance are not being tested here, so stay within your comfort zone.
At first this may feel incredibly awkward as we are not used to breaking down our movements into slow intentional pieces. Noticing your core balancing you in the middle of the swing of your leg might totally upset your balance. You may wobble or bobble. Walking itself may feel foreign or strange. Let all those things be what they are, we are not here to judge, or to grade you on how “well” you walk! When you run out of room you may turn and start in a new direction, or if necessary turn around and start back on your path.
During all of this be curious. Send your awareness into your ankle, or your toes. Feel what a step feels like if you are concentrating wholly on the sensations in your heel. Feel how your arms swing. Or pay attention to your breathing and breath in and out with your steps. If you are walking for a person, or a need, try silently chanting that person’s name in time with your steps. Or make your request a litany that moves with your movement.
It is also very appropriate to seek to still your mind as you would in sitting meditation. Simply become aware of what happens in your body, the movements, and sensations as you walk and allow this to help bring your mind to stillness. When distractions crop up, or judgements (oh wow that was a wobbly step, I know no one saw me nearly topple into the bushes) simply turn your attention back to your steps without judgement. Judging your active little monkey mind will not make it more likely to play nice with you!
Your attention will wander and that’s OK. There is no way to fail at walking meditation or prayer except by giving up. So when you find yourself composing a grocery list or wondering why your left arm doesn’t swing as far forward as your right let go of the thought, and go back to paying attention. That’s all. There is no judgement involved, no criticism. You aren’t counting the number of times you “failed,” or trying to get to some end point.
Simply continue. Some days this will be easier than others. If you find a situation or person weighing heavily on your mind it may be helpful to pause and repeat the breathing exercise we began with, this time dedicating your practice to whatever ti is that is weighing heavily on your mind. Often those niggling thoughts that won’t leave us alone are our own intuition pointing us as the places and people in our lives that need our attention or love. So listen to yourself, try to remove judgement, and trust your instincts.
When you reach the end of your practice (because your alarm has gone off, or you’ve finished your walk around the block, whatever you set as the bounds on your practice) let yourself come to a gentle comfortable stop. Stand tall and repeat those deep breathes, if you like you can close your eyes and say a little thanks, to the Divine or to yourself for allowing you this time of centering and prayer. You may feel the need to stretch as you take those final closing breathes, if so do it, listen to what your body needs!
Now you are free to go on with your day, hopefully a little more centered in your body and mind.