Discovering the benefits of walking meditation
While conquering the world’s swimming pools in the late 1990s and the 2000s, Amanda Beard had already included breathing exercises and visualisation techniques in her training.
She was not the type of person to practise meditation, though. She didn’t completely understand it, or she thought of it as something incompatible with her “anxious and fidgety character.”
Several years after the end of her athletic career, she discovered walking meditation. “I put on my earbuds, turned up the music really loud, and just went out for a walk,” Beard says.
Today, the seven-time US Olympic medallist practises walking meditation in nature, around the house, on a plane, or while walking the dog. It’s a daily practise that contributes positively to every aspect of her life, she says.
Here’s what you need to know about walking meditation, including how to do it, the potential benefits, and tips from meditation experts.
What is walking meditation?
Walking meditation is a mindfulness practice that weds the physical benefits of walking with the focused mindfulness of meditation.
Instead of sitting cross-legged, you meditate on the stroll. Vietnamese meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh has poetically defined it as, “printing peace, serenity and happiness on the ground”.
How do I start a walking meditation practice?
You don’t need equipment or a designated space to start.
“The idea of a walking meditation is to pay attention to the way your body feels, noticing things like the sky, trees, tuning into all of your senses, all with curiosity and without judgment,” says board-certified family physician and meditation teacher Rashmi Schramm, MD.
This means you can meditate “on the go” in the countryside, in the city, in your backyard, and virtually anywhere.
A simple, 10-minute walking meditation for beginners requires that you just start walking, observing your body while “blending” into the world around you, per a 2018 report in Health Promotion Perspectives. Consider what you hear, smell and see. Think about how your feet touch the ground.
You should try to fully immerse in these sensations and not dwell on any thoughts (but don’t worry if they hit your mind), a simple act with the potential to gradually usher a new kind of awareness into your life.
In case you want to do a more formal type of walking meditation, like watching your breath, you may try slowly inhaling through your nostrils, according to a study in Frontiers in Psychology. Then hold your breath, say, for 2 seconds, and slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds, or simply observe the way you breathe while you walk.
You can also use apps like Healthy Minds Program, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, or Headspace.