Meditation doesn’t need to be as complicated as you might think. You don’t need a perfect corner to meditate, and you don’t even need to be in total stillness like you may imagine.
The Japanese, in fact, have a number of practices that can help you integrate so-called moving meditations into your day, such as tai chi, yoga, and qi gong. But one that is less well-known, despite having been practiced for thousands of years, is Kinhin (Kin’ Yin’), or the practice of walking meditation.
It, however, is special because it’s most accessible and integrated into something that all of us already do: walk!
During the day, Buddhist monks would integrate this practice of kinhin between more traditional sitting meditations (called zazen). Practicing it helped them not only get up and move, but also helped them integrate this meditative state into their everyday, non-cushion-related activities.
It’s the same reason it might be helpful for you.
Making Meditation Part of Your Daily Routine
Many practitioners struggle with meditation because they feel that a sit practice is simply not working. They may adopt a 10, 20, even 30 minute daily sit practice, but feel as though they live the rest of their life in a frantic, fight-flight-or freeze state.
The way to remedy this is to take that blissful sensation you get in meditation and embed that sense of ease into all you do. Easier said than done? Maybe not.
Kinhin (along with other practices like eating, breathwork, cooking, tea ritual, or balneotherapy) is a simple way to integrate a mindful state into mundane tasks while still reaping all the health benefits of a sit practice. This approach not only allows for mindfulness to permeate our lives, but allows for our lives to become far more pleasurable.
But how do you do it? Mindful walking is just walking mindfully, right?
Well, kind of.
The intention is to bring the state you’ve cultivated during a sit practice to life and into motion, and to make it part of your daily routine.
So let’s get into it!
How to Practice the Art of the Walking Meditation
First, find a place where you can walk easily– you don’t want your first experience with walking meditation to involve dodging traffic. You want to be able to walk freely without thinking about where you’re walking. If you live in an urban environment, you may find it best to practice in your home or in a park.
Before you begin moving, take a moment to just observe what it feels like to be in your body. If it feels okay, maybe you’ll choose to close the eyes, or gaze to the tip of the nose. How do your feet feel as they make contact with the ground? Where is the weight distributed? What sensations or emotions are you feeling? How do any emotions you’re feeling manifest as sensation in your body?
Keeping your focus drawn to the sensation of the body — and specifically in the feet — can be an excellent starting ground for new practitioners. As you move, observe how those sensations change.
While simply focusing on the sensations of the feet or the rest of the body works for many, you may find that it’s not enough to maintain your focus — especially at the beginning. If that’s the case, you may find counting your steps to be helpful and serve as an anchor for the mind. Count beginning with the left foot, one, right foot, two, left foot, three, right foot, four. There are a great many iterations to this practice, and there is no dogmatic right, or wrong way.
The most important thing, whether you are counting or not, is to maintain a fluidity, a softness of the breath, and despite a slow pace (generally one step every 3 seconds) a feeling of movement. You can also play with noticing how many steps you take during one inhale and one exhale. This should feel slow, but natural.
Some practitioners will also pair their breath with the pace of their steps. This is entirely up to you and should depend on whether the additional focus on the breath feels beneficial or stress-inducing.
Building Your Mindfulness Muscle
As you move forward, continue to observe the thoughts, feelings, sensations, or even distractions that arise, without any need to engage with them, change them, or fix them. As these external objects, sensations, or emotions arrive into your sphere of awareness, acknowledge them and gently invite your awareness back to your steps. Each time you draw the mind back from these external or internal stimuli, you are strengthening your mindfulness muscle.
And much like a sitting meditation there is no right amount of time to practice. Whether you practice walking for five minutes or thirty, that’s just fine. Consistency, of course, is what makes the difference.
Want to give it a try but are skeptical about going off on your own? I recorded this short, 10 minute practice that you can give a try while you’re out walking!