The Path of Awakening: Walking Meditation in Pandemic Times
On January 22, Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Master and activist, died at 95. His teachings have had a profound influence on my inner peace. In his honor, this post is dedicated to walking meditation.
Walking meditation is an accessible way to meditate for anxiety and stress. I hope you’ll join me on the path, and experience peace in every step during your walking meditation.
3 Walking Meditation Techniques for Beginners
I feel my feet on the earth… one and then the next. Sometimes I’ll simply listen. Sometimes I’ll use an affirmation connected to my breath, in rhythm with my steps. Below are three of my favorite walking meditation techniques.
During Covid-19, I’ve Been Too Triggered and Restless for Seated Meditation
For decades I meditated regularly. March 2020 changed my practice. My meditation practice is relevant to what’s happening now — and still, it is triage. It must sustain and comfort me, feeding me courage as I manage my chronic anxiety and stay present with the suffering of the world. I’m going back to familiar, gentle practices.
Walking Meditation is Something I Can Take Refuge in Right Now
Traditional seated meditation feels incongruent, even as an experienced meditation teacher. There’s already too much sitting, and my worrying mind won’t tolerate it. The anxiety wins out over the witness, to the point that it is intolerable. So, I turn to what’s most soothing: Journaling, restorative yoga postures, self-massage, compassion practices… and walking meditation.
In those first months of the pandemic, my walks were one of the only times I went outside. I found them incredibly precious. I continue to be really grateful for the opportunity to go for walks. When I walk, I get curious about the relationship between what’s going on in the world, and how my body is responding.
1. Aimless Tiger
The Zen Buddhist Master and global spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh offers simple, accessible guidance for walking meditation in his many books. My favorite is “The Long Road Turns to Joy.” He suggests that we visualize walking like an aimless tiger. I love this image. It helps me feel at ease.
Walk As If Nothing Bothers You
One thing I’ve noticed when I encourage people to try walking meditation is that they start very tentatively and their arms might move stiffly. It helps me to think of an aimless tiger, so that I get my whole body involved in the action of enjoying the walk.
I wonder if you could let your arms swing and let your hips move. Walk as if nothing in the world could bother you, and you have nowhere to be… nowhere to go… no destination.
Then, you can be very aware. Mindful of your surroundings, simply appreciate them. Appreciate the feel of wind on your skin, the sound of birds in the trees, the countless colors of green, the smell of mulch and the taste of dust.
All of this can be allowed to wash over you as you amble like an aimless tiger.
Affirmations — words or phrases that resonate with your values — are personal. You can adapt them to feel authentic to you. If I’m in need of grounding, I say to myself “I am home” on the first step, “I have arrived” with the next. You can alternate between them with every step, and continue.
You might choose to walk with one intention. For example, to lift the suffering of the world… to bring harmony to nature and all beings… to stand up for equity… What’s coming to you? What feels most essential right now? Is there a word or phrase that resonates on a visceral level? Breathe that same word or phrase in and out. Fill yourself with your intention, and share it with the world.
If you feel distant, isolated or lonely, your word might be love. Breathe in, knowing you are loved. Breathe out, knowing you are loving.
“Ask yourself how you would most like to feel… Receive it however it comes to you… Inhale the feeling until you are completely filled with it. Exhale the feeling until it surrounds you.”
-Dr. Gail Parker, “Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma”
Walk in a way that brings you closer to your relationship with the earth and all beings. You can notice how many steps it takes to repeat your intention. Align with your integrity in every step.
3. Mindful Walking
Mindfulness doesn’t mean stiffness or seriousness. There’s nothing fancy about it. It means actually really drinking in the whole experience that you’re in in the moment. Recognize what’s around you, without judgement. Notice the soles of your feet. Maybe turn up the corners of your mouth in a little smile, and be present as you take your walk.
If there’s a time when you feel captivated, curious, or grateful about some detail of your surroundings- the sound of geese calling out overhead, the grassy scent in the air, or the sight of clouds passing- pause. Allow your feet to stand on the earth. Pause in non-doing presence. Without labeling or identifying or grasping the experience, simply drink it in. Pause on the spot until your aimless tiger is ready to continue on its ramble.
“When you are awake, you will not hesitate to enter any path. You will suffer, not just from your own worries and fears, but because of your love for all beings. When you open yourself in this way, your companions will be other beings on this path of awakening who share your insight. They will work with you, side-by-side, to alleviate the world’s suffering.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Long Road Turns to Joy”
How Will You Experience Peace in Every Step?
Walking meditation helps me notice the relationship between what’s going on in the world, and how my body is responding. During these stressful times, I’m going back to familiar, gentle practices.
How will you calm yourself when you feel anxious? Will you try one of these 3 walking meditation techniques? If so, please let me know in the comments.
- Aimless Tiger: Get your whole body involved in the action of enjoying the walk by imagining yourself as an aimless tiger.
- Affirmation: Use a word or phrase that resonates with you and your values.
- Mindful Walking: Recognize your surroundings without judgement, and notice the soles of your feet on the earth.
I hope you’ll join me on the path of awakening, and experience peace in every step during your walking meditation.
The original version of this meditation was published on the Accessible Yoga Blog. It has been updated.
Hi, I’m Kate! I can’t wait to walk this path alongside you, sharing the tools that have helped me feel calmer. Something that helps my anxiety more than anything else is to support others. When I do what I can to relieve the suffering in the world, I feel a kinship with "other beings on this path of awakening." That has a grounding influence on my nervous system.
What if you could be kind to yourself no matter what chaos was happening around you? Yoga for Self-Acceptance starts on Saturday, March 5. See all our upcoming yoga & mindfulness options HERE. I hope you will join us!
Stop Walking On Eggshells!
Gentle yoga to release your stress and shift your mindset about struggle.
If you get your buttons pushed often by other people's issues, you may be hypervigilant. You might feel it in your body as clenching, tension, or chronic pain.
You'll become more grounded in awareness of your body.