- Each step brings you back to the present moment,
which is the only moment in which you can be alive.
- Thich Nhat Hanh
Walking meditation is just walking, and just meditation. That’s all. In sitting, we place our focus on our breath. In walking, we place our focus on our steps … and our breath.
In Pali it is cankama. In Thai it is jongrom. Its benefits are described by the Buddha in the Cankama Sutta. The Buddha discusses meditation as part of walking, standing, sitting, lying down in many places in his teachings.
During retreat at Khao Tham Center, we alternate 40 minutes of sitting meditation with 40 minutes of walking meditation. This seems healthier for our bodies and our minds.[note]
How to do it
There are variations on the details of doing walking meditation. Here is the way we are doing it at Khao Tham under our teacher Phra Marut.
- Choose with your eyes, or mark out with shoes or stones or whatever, a path of 10 to 20 paces. It can be indoors or outside.
- Starting at one end of your path — stand upright and still and centered. And breathing 🙂
- It is usually more comfortable and least distracting to clasp your hands either behind your back or in front of you.
- Keeping your eyes on the ground ahead of you. You are not focusing on anything there, so let the gaze soften.
Breathing! ana … pana …
- We still do our conscious ana and pana. They will go along with the speed of our walking.
- At the usual slow, meditative walking speed, gently: Breathe in on lifting, hold on moving, breathe out on placing.
- When starting out at a very fast walk, just be conscious of your natural breathing rate.
- At a somewhat slow walk, you can breathe in every two steps, breathe out every two steps.
- Walking slower, breathe in one step, breathe out one step.
aaaand sati …
- With each movement, concentrate on your whole body: standing, lifting, moving, placing. Notice the intention to stand, lift, move, place.
- Just as in sitting meditation, when other thoughts and feelings enter the mind (and they always will!) just note them, and let them go away.
- It can be good to walk at a fast or regular pace for a few rounds before you settle into the walking meditation, to loosen yourself up.
- You can extend your sati … to the soles of your feet (how does the ground feel? how does it change? Even indoors it is surprising to find the slight differences in texture and slope of a perfectly flat floor) … to the variations in air speed and temperature against your skin (especially outside, but again interesting how much there is inside) … to the disposition of your body and arms (does it change at all with alternate feet? with differences in the ground surface?). You could focus on one aspect for the entire walking session, or choose which aspects and alternate between them. The goal of it all is intention and attention.
Don’t be thrown off by all this detailed instruction. It’s just walking, it’s what you do every day! The only difference is … yup … your intention and your attention. (Well yeah, and probably the speed of your walking. 🙂 )
- Standing: At the end of your path before turning, you can bring your foot alongside the other and stand for a breath or two or three. Then continue your turn and your steps. Ajahn Sumedho does this way.
- One-step, three-step, six-step, …:
The above is the “three-step” walking practice. We will mostly do this one during our formal walking meditation sessions.
- You could also do “six step”: lifting heel, lifting foot, starting moving, further moving, toe placing, entire foot placing.
- You could do a “one-step” — lift/move/place, lift/move/place …
- However you do it, your breath is in tune with your walking, your focus is on your steps and your breath, and your intention is standing, lifting, moving, placing …
You can keep a faster speed for the entire walking session instead of only as a warm-up. With your breath in comfortable rhythm with it.
Instead of moving your foot slowly through the lifting, moving, placing, you can pause the foot in the middle of each movement (this is how it’s done in Diana St. Ruth’s description).
- Length of path:
Here we are using a short path, as the purpose is only to get our bodies moving and give us another method of focusing our breath — not to go wandering about the countryside. (Doing a nice long meditative walk is a good practice too, but it is a different one.)
You can let your arms hang naturally at your sides. You can put your hands in front of you, palms, up, with one hand loosely on top of the other (like we do when sitting).
And more …
Phra Olarn Thanawuttho (Wat Samai Kongkha near Srithanu) says that meditation while sitting was perfect at the beginnings of Buddhism, when people were working in fields, walking everywhere, physically active. And that in modern times walking meditation may be better for many, in a world where people are sitting all day at school or work.
- How to Practice Walking Meditation by Leslie Booker. Very nice clear article, from Lion’s Roar.
- Walking Meditation, by Diana St. Ruth – Short article, and eight-page PDF to download, from Buddhism Now.
- Download the PDF directly: from BuddhismNow.com
- Also available: from our server as PDF on usb drive after retreat
- Cankama Sutta: Walking Meditation Lots of details and photos and videos — and suttas! at Buddha Weekly
- Walk Like a Buddha: Arrive in the here and the now, by Thich Nhat Hanh – beautiful thoughts about walking.