Walking in a Straight Line
Often we associate the practice of meditation as a static activity; perhaps in a cross-legged position with our eyes closed. Yet sitting still is a difficult task for many of us. Maybe even especially so since we are feeling the increasing pressure to produce at our jobs, maintaining the home environment or simply having more responsibilities. For some, we’ve become the sandwich generation – taking care of both our children, who are young or are returning post-college, and elderly parents. Whatever stage of life one is in, anyone can benefit from meditation.
The phenomena of new technology creates a need to stay ‘hooked-in’ as one constantly checks and responds to the latest beep, chirp, tweets of texts and email messages. It’s almost as if we’re being groomed for future attention deficit disorders. Or perhaps developing a new kind of attachment disorder where it becomes much more difficult for the younger folks, who have been practically raised with technology in utero, to unplug and detach.
How often has one felt like saying, “Stop the world, I want to get off?” A much different refrain from the first “Hello, world!” message when the Macintosh computer was born. We can agree that the speed of the world has changed, that technology is here to stay. And accompanying the new world of infinite possibilities – perhaps sometimes too many – is an underlying feeling of overwhelm and anxiety.
Fortunately we have at our disposal a very low tech way of regulating ourselves through the practice of meditation. But in this case, for the non-sitters, walking meditation offers us the ability to change our state in an easily accessible way. There are formal and informal ways of practicing; following is a formal walking meditation technique.
Wear comfortable clothing. Find a 30 to 40 feet long path preferably outdoors such as a backyard, seashore, or park. For city dwellers one can utilize apartment hallways depending on their length. Twenty minutes is the suggested amount of time for walking. But if one can only do five minutes it is far better to begin practice. Sometimes making small incremental changes in our lives is most effective.
Begin by standing still. Initially you can take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Breathe in through the nose, pay attention to the sensations of air filling your lungs. Hold your breath for the count of three, then exhale for five. Bring your awareness back to your body, continue to notice all sensations in and around your body.
Start walking at a relaxed pace, perhaps a little more slowly than you’d normally do. Though your pace can vary; if one is in a more agitated state you can begin by fast walking gradually shifting down. Or your pace can change throughout the meditation. You may be inclined towards distraction of sights, sounds, and smells in the environment around you — try to remain focused on your internal state. Keeping your eyelids halfway closed will facilitate that. Simply pay attention to the physical experience of walking: going in one direction, come to a full stop, turn and go in the other direction. Repeat. Find your own rhythm and pace.
Turn your attention to the sensation of the alternating steps of your feet. Feel the fabric on the soles of your feet. Or if barefoot the earth — notice the texture[s] and temperature. Feel the weight of your body as you place one step, then another. Notice how your foot makes contact: from the heel, to the ball of the foot, to the toes. Notice the movement of each step, from lifting the foot off the ground, the swinging of your arms and legs as you move forward. Feel your muscles tensing and relaxing. If there is tension in any part of your body, allow it to relax.
Sometimes your mind may wander. One can use labeling to occupy the mind with a simple thought such as “stepping left,” “stepping right,” or “left, right” to assist in staying present. An indication that your mind has wandered is if you’re stepping left but labeling it as “stepping right.” Notice it and bring your attention back to present.
Speaking of “right” we sometimes tend to get stuck on “Am I doing this right?” or “I am getting too distracted” or whatever other internal dialogue may appear. It is okay. You can always take another deep breath to re-center, bring your attention back to your body, or even simply notice the wandering mind in this moment.
In general, the overall benefits of this meditation are achieving a deeply relaxed state, increased sense of happiness and serenity, learning to let go of thoughts, and building concentration. Enjoy putting your best foot forward!