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You may think of meditation as sitting in a lotus position and saying “Om” repeatedly. While that is one way to meditate, there are plenty of other options, especially for beginners. If you’ve never meditated or don’t have a lot of time to do a moderate workout, you may want to try a walking meditation. It’s an easy way to get started with meditation, get your steps in, and can help center and calm you.
What is walking meditation?
Walking meditation or mindful walking is where you combine mindfulness meditation—the act of focusing on what is happening in the present moment without judging it as good or bad—with walking movement. Most people typically walk from place to place with a goal in mind, like getting the mail.
With walking meditation, you move your body without a specific goal beyond walking with awareness. You focus on your breath, feelings, and thoughts, as well as the sensations and movements of your body with each step you take. It’s an active process where you are purposely aware while moving through your environment.
Mindful walking was popularized by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen monk, and has become a popular way to increase self-awareness and wellbeing.
What are the benefits of mindful walking?
Walking by itself has benefits for your physical health. Mindful walking adds psychological and, for some people, even spiritual benefits. Here are the top nine benefits of walking meditation.
1. Decreases stress
The combination of walking and mindfulness helps lower your stress levels even more than just walking alone.
When you’re stressed out, your body may react to stress with physical symptoms like a tension headache and trouble sleeping or emotional symptoms like feeling agitated or anxious (APA, 2018). Mindfulness-based activity helps reduce stress, whether the stressors are work-related, environmental, or personal (Remmers, 2016).
Meditation for anxiety: does it work?
2. Improves your health
While exercise alone helps improve your overall wellness, it may have additional health benefits. In a study of older people, walking meditation lowered markers of inflammation and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) better than standard walking (Prakhinkit, 2014).
If you have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or want to stave off high blood sugars, you may want to try mindful walking. In a study comparing walking meditation and traditional walks, only the walking meditation reduced cortisol levels, arterial stiffness, and A1C (a blood test that gives an average of blood sugar levels over a few months) (Gainey, 2016).
3. Perks up your mood
When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, your body’s natural pain killers, and increases levels of other feel-good brain chemicals. You get that “exercise glow,” which is your body’s temperature rising just a bit from your physical activity. These physical reactions can help perk up your mood. Mindful walking helps improve your mood and can decrease anxiety, depression, and stress levels (Gotink, 2016).
4. Doesn’t take much time
You don’t have to spend an hour doing mindful walking. Even doing a short walking meditation can improve your health. If you don’t enjoy or have a lot of time to exercise, walking meditation may change your mind. A small study found that being mindful while walking on the treadmill resulted in a better exercise experience even in people who do not enjoy exercising (Cox, 2018).
5. Gives you more energy
Physical movement, like walking, may help you sleep better at night, so you’ll be less tired and have more energy during the day (Wang, 2021). But some people are tired because their stress hormone (cortisol) levels are high, keeping them up at night. Walking meditation helps to lower this overstimulating hormone, so you’ll have more energy during the day when you need it (Prakhinkit, 2014).
6. Increases your willpower
Mindfulness exercises help strengthen the parts of your brain that motivate behavior and reward processing. If you’ve been trying to stop addictive-style behaviors that require willpower, like drinking alcohol, smoking, or overeating sugar, walking meditation may help (Garland, 2018).
7. Helps your physical balance
While walking meditations may not feel like a hard workout for some, they help keep your stride balanced and stable by allowing you to pay closer attention to your experience while walking. This is especially important for older people who may lose their balance more frequently (Chatutain, 2019).
Mindfulness: what it is, types, benefits
8. Increases your self-awareness
The way we live our lives today with automation, screens, and advanced technology has left many of us feeling disconnected from our bodies. Our ancestors used their bodies to do many of the things we can now do by simply pushing a button. Walking meditation helps you reconnect to your body. This may help reduce anxiety or depressive symptoms as you continue to practice moving with mindfulness (Aftanas, 2018).
9. Reconnect to nature
The benefits of physical exercise and mindfulness practice are enhanced by being outdoors. Viewing nature has been found to improve mood, even if you only see it in a video or photo. However, the beneficial effects are more noticeable with direct exposure to the outdoors (Nisbet, 2019).
People might feel more vitality and positive emotions when in nature and fewer negative emotions, like anxiety and stress. You don’t have to work out hard or for a long time outdoors to enjoy these emotional benefits. Simply walking outside for a short time can help. Some experts even say that you don’t have to be in a forest or wild area to reconnect outdoors. Walking mindfully outdoors in an urban area has also been found to be beneficial (Nisbet, 2019).
How do you do walking meditation?
Mindful walking is where you walk with full attention to the sensations in and on your body, as well as your thoughts and what you see in your environment as you move through your environment (Booker, 2021).
Some walking meditation practices recommend walking in a circle or a straight line. Other people may walk in a labyrinth, while others may walk in no particular direction at all. The most important idea is to walk slowly and mindfully (Hanh, 2019).
Before you walk
- Find the place where you will walk. Ideally, walking meditation is practiced outdoors but you can perform it indoors if needed. It’s important to have a safe environment as you walk.
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothing appropriate for the weather if walking outside.
Starting your walk
- Stand still for a moment. Take a deep breath. Focus on your feet in your walking shoes, how your body feels, and how you are standing.
- Take a few more deep breaths. Bring your attention to the present moment as you begin your walk.
Transcendental meditation: what research says about it
During your walk
- Start walking naturally but at a slower pace than usual.
- Keep your focus on the physical sensations of walking. Pay attention to each footstep rolling from your heels to your toes, the muscles in your feet and legs contracting and relaxing, your abdominal muscles, and the way your arms swing. You may want to have a mantra or just focus on your breath.
- Be aware of your bodily senses as you walk:
- Seeing: what is visible like leaves, shadows, reflections, clouds
- Hearing: wind, horns, music, birds
- Smelling: grass, flowers, city smells
- Feeling: the wind on your face, the movements of your body through the air
- Make sure to keep breathing deeply and intentionally.
- Keep your thoughts neutral. If your mind wanders, gently bring your thoughts back to observing.
- Keep walking if you feel safe and comfortable doing so.
Completing your walk
- When you’re done walking, stand still for a few moments and take a few deep breaths.
Walking meditations may not seem natural at first. If you feel this way, you may want to use a guided walking meditation or listen to a podcast while doing a walking meditation to help you.
Boost your wellbeing
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Walking meditation improves your overall well-being by boosting your mood, decreasing stress, and exercising your body. It’s a great low-impact exercise that many people can perform easily. Making the time and effort to connect with your body and your environment is a worthy endeavor, and walking meditation may be a great way to work these wellbeing-boosting goals into your life.
- Aftanas, L. I., Bazanova, O. M., & Novozhilova, N. V. (2018). Posture-motor and posture-ideomotor dual-tasking: a putative marker of psychomotor retardation and depressive rumination in patients with major depressive disorder. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 108. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00108. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00108/full
- American Psychological Association (APA). (2018). Stress effects on the body. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
- Booker, L. (2021). How to practice walking meditation. Retrieved from https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-walking-meditation/
- Chatutain, A., Pattana, J., Parinsarum, T., & Lapanantasin, S. (2019). Walking meditation promotes ankle proprioception and balance performance among elderly women. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 23(3), 652-657. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2018.09.152. Retrieved from https://www.bodyworkmovementtherapies.com/article/S1360-8592(18)30451-0/fulltext
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- Garland, E. L., & Howard, M. O. (2018). Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 13(1), 14. doi: 10.1186/s13722-018-0115-3. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5907295/
- Gotink, R. A., Hermans, K. S., Geschwind, N., De Nooij, R., De Groot, W. T., & Speckens, A. E. (2016). Mindfulness and mood stimulate each other in an upward spiral: a mindful walking intervention using experience sampling. Mindfulness, 7(5), 1114–1122. doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0550-8. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27642373/
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- Remmers, C., Topolinski, S., & Koole, S. L. (2016). Why being mindful may have more benefits than you realize: Mindfulness improves both explicit and implicit mood regulation. Mindfulness, 7(4), 829-837. doi: 10.1007/s12671-016-0520-1. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-17012-001
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- Yogapedia. (2021). What is kinhin walking meditation? Retrieved from https://www.yogapedia.com/definition/11160/kinhin-walking-meditation
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.