For months now, I've been walking almost every day. I tend to average 2.5 to 3 miles. Every since reading "Savor", I try to make my walking a meditative time as well. This has worked wonders for me in many ways.
A couple of those ways are more exercise (obviously) and more meditation. Like most folks, time is always a challenge. Walking Meditation makes the walking more enjoyable, less effort and most of all it vastly expands my meditation time which has a ripple effect throughout the rest of my life.
Since the weather has gotten colder, and the days shorter, I have no longer able to fit a nice walk at the local park in to my schedule. I chose to walk in my neighborhood. The block I'm on, right in front of my house, is precisely one half mile. I walk it six times to get my three miles in. So while walking the last bit of it recently, I had the thought that since it is such a neatly broken down series of laps, it would be easy to describe how I use it for my meditation.
I get asked, a lot, HOW I perform walking meditation. I have Thich Nhat Hanh's book on Walking Meditation, and LOVE it.
I perform the guided meditations on the CD quite often. I use that one for when I am severely limited on walking space. Say, for instance, I am stranded at the office, and I know I will not get the opportunity to walk that day outdoors. I sometimes perform the guided meditations in the hallway of my office building. I've even performed these in hotel rooms before.
But when I walk outside, I don't listen to music or guided meditations. I perform my own style of walking meditation based on the things I have learned from Thich Nhat Hanh's books. The one in my neighborhood breaks down something like this:
0.5 - Breathing
1.0 - Walking Meditation on My Body and Nature.
1.0 - Walking Meditation on My Family and Friends.
0.5 - Walking Meditation on the World, and nothing at all.
For the first half mile loop, I focus simply on my breathing. I don't try to think of anything in particular. In fact, focus on my breathing to help clear my mind so that I don't start solving whatever problems are in my head. Being a professional problem solver, that's just how my mind works. Every little thing such as how to get a better rate on my insurance, how to teach my daughter to tie her shoes, how to spend more time with my friends who live far away or how to write better CSS code for a web page that I am working on or whatever. When I am not thinking of anything in particular, my mind starts solving these problems for me. So…I try very hard to focus on my in-breath and my out-breath, for the first half mile, so that as I enter the second half mile loop, I can turn my mind toward mindful thoughts for me, my family and my friends.
On the second half mile, I begin focusing my thoughts toward my body. By this time, I am warmed up with the walking, and I can become keenly aware of my body. Thich Nhat Hanh, in a couple of the books I have read which talked about walking meditation, suggests a process where you first release the tension in your body and let worry and stress fall away as you walk. Let it sink out of you and in to the earth, acknowledging it, but releasing it. Then you can start to give gratitude for your body and health. I start by saying to myself, mentally:
Breathing in, I am aware of my body.
Breathing out, I appreciate my body.
Breathing in I welcome the energy of the universe to my body.
Breathing out, I send the energy throughout my body and back to the universe.
Breathing in, I keep the energy I need,
Breathing out, I send the rest back to the universe.
Breathing in, I am aware of my leg muscles,
Breathing out, I am aware of their wellness"
and so on for my entire body.
I usually end this portion of the process with something along the lines of:
Breathing in, I am grateful to my body
Breathing out, I appreciate my body's function
Breathing in, I thank my body
Breathing out, I smile to my body.
If you have never done any of this before, these meditations can sound a little odd, but when you are actually doing it, I assure you that it will feel more natural. For that matter, and this is important, it doesn't matter how you do it or what you say…these are good guides, but I only do them because they work for me. I arrived at these by starting with some of the suggestions that Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, but I rapidly evolved the suggestions in to my own things. Things that matter to me, or that feel natural to my inner mind. The only thing that really matters, at least in my opinion, is that you are focused on gratitude. The feeling you get from gratitude (and I mean the chemical reaction your body has to the emotion) and the physical benefits from the walking give you a double-whammy of healthy benefit, and there's hard science to back it up. (I'll be reviewing the book Buddha's Brain for more on that soon)
Anyhow, once I have finished the laps two and three, focused on gratitude for my body, I spend the next two laps doing the same thing, but focused toward my immediate family. Basically I do breathing-thoughts (as I tend to refer to them) focused on my Wife, Daughter, Brother and Sister for the first of those two laps, then on my entire extended family and set of friends on the second.
I then spend the next lap (being the final half mile) focusing on nothing at all. I release all thoughts, I typically spend that time smiling. I let my mind drift and don't focus on any thoughts. If I notice that I am starting to think of a particular thing, I give mental thanks for the thought, and ask it if I can get back to it later.
At the end of my walk, I slow down, and if possible I like to end the walk with a very slow walking meditation like the guided ones in the Walking Meditation book, or sometimes I will do some mindful movements that are sort of loosely based on Tai Chi. They are a great way to smooth the pulse back down to a normal rate and be fully relaxed.
That's it! I hope that you find some use in this information. I get asked about it often, and it's rather hard to describe quickly, so I often feel I've not helped people who ask. Alternatively, I hear myself describing it and realize that the average person might find this all to be a little uncomfortable.
A buddy of mine, whom I recommended Mindful Running to when his iPod died tried it for a while and then called me one day with a lengthy poke in the ribs about it. The story was too long to tell, but suffice it to say that it ended with him buying another iPod. Maybe it's not for everyone, but I think if he would have tried his running would be much improved.
Please feel free to post and questions and I'll try to answer them. Meanwhile if you Google "Walking Meditation" you'll get TONS of useful information, guided meditations and assistance. I highly recommend the Thich Nhat Hanh book "Walking Meditation" as well. It has been a great thing for me.