Beginner’s Meditation Guide
(Anmol: It is always great to learn from someone who has real and deep experience of a subject and this is all the more important when it comes to meditation and spirituality. So below I would like to present the following guest post from Axel, who was an actual Buddhist Monk and now shares his wisdom, knowledge and expertise with you on his great meditation website Axel G.
If you would like to be a guest author on Master of Meditation and Yoga, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
A Beginner’s Guide To Walking Meditation
By Axel Gjertsen
This guide is packed with information and offers detailed instructions on how to start with walking meditation. No previous experience needed.
Walking meditation is one of my favorite forms of practice. So, I’ll very much enjoy pointing you in the right direction. This guide will be followed by a post called How To Master Walking Meditation, that will help take your practice to the next level.
What is walking meditation?
Perhaps you’ve never even seen anyone practice walking meditation, so let’s take a close look at what it is and why we do it.
Walking meditation is an age-old form of meditation practice. In Buddhism it’s one of the 4 body postures in which you practice.
The 4 body postures
Lying (traditionally on the side)
Some meditators use the same meditation object for all body postures while others have different meditation objects for each posture.
Personally, I use the same meditation object for every body posture. To avoid any confusion, let me point out that the techniques taught in this guide are only for walking and standing meditation.
Generally walking meditation is practiced indoors but in some Buddhist traditions they emphasize outdoor practice. Either you pace back and forth, or walk in a circle.
There is no need to control your speed. Any pace that feels right is fine. Anyhow, it’s good to know that some Buddhist traditions emphasize a set speed, either fast or slow.
When you practice walking meditation you keep your eyes open, however don’t look around the room like a little kid. Walking meditation is done with the head and eyes pointing straight ahead.
What are the benefits of walking meditation?
There are many benefits to walking meditation. To start with, it’s usually practiced hand in hand with sitting meditation. The two support each other and it’s also nice to stretch the legs every so often, particularly after long periods of sitting meditation.
If you’re doing a meditation retreat, you may be dealing with physical discomfort or pain, after hours and hours of sitting. Then, every period of walking meditation becomes an appreciated break.
Another benefit is that walking meditation generates a lot of mental energy. As you gain experience you’ll be able to sense the build up of energy, especially when sitting down after a period of walking meditation.
The mental energy fuels concentration and supports sitting meditation. Likewise, sitting meditation boosts concentration which in turn makes it easier to do walking meditation.
One could say that sitting meditation boosts concentration while walking meditation generates mental energy.
So, the two body postures, walking and sitting, truly support each other.
The above is a simplification but more about mental energy and concentration in the follow-up post.
Some meditators find walking meditation difficult, so why bother?
I wouldn’t tell anyone, “You have to practice walking meditation, if not your meditation practice won’t get you anywhere.” Because it’s not true. You can practice other forms of meditation and still reap the sweet fruits of stillness and liberation.
However, walking meditation makes it easier to practice sitting meditation since the walking builds up mental energy that supports concentration. You also have the benefit of alternating between two body postures which relieves any physical discomfort.
Walking meditation can look odd and certainly feel awkward, especially in the beginning. But don’t let your very first impressions discourage you. With experience walking meditation becomes second nature, just like you eat and drink without giving it much thought.
If you have any physical injuries, walking meditation is a great practice. Meditators with back, neck and knee injuries often take a liking to walking meditation since they’re not comfortable sitting on the floor.
Now, don’t expect to become an expert overnight and be aware that walking meditation generally isn’t as deep as sitting meditation, since you’re walking and meditating at the same time, with the open eyes.
Which technique should I learn?
There are many styles around but I only recommend plain and simple techniques. Below, I’ll introduce you to two easy yet powerful techniques. I suggest you give both of them a try, then stick to the one that is easiest for you.
Two basic techniques:
Any room will do but a large space is preferable since you don’t have to turn around as often. Walk slowly and when you get close to the wall, stop for a moment and turn around.
An alternative is to walk in a circle which means you never have to turn round. If you practice in a circle, stop occasionally for a brief period of standing meditation. But more about that in a minute…
- Relax your body and walk slowly with you spine upright. Also relax your arms and hands.
- Give attention to what it feels like when the souls of your feet touch the floor. The sensations in the feet is your meditation object.
- The feet carry the weight of your entire body which puts a lot of pressure on them. What does that feel like?
- The floor may be hot, cold, rough, smooth, slippery etc. Give relaxed attention to any sensation in the feet, become one with the sensations. But don’t try too hard, since a tense mind makes for a tense body, and vice versa.
- Now, focus on the foot that is moving, even when it’s not in contact with the floor. In other words, you only focus on one foot at the time.
- When you reach the end of the room, stand still for awhile and feel the sensations in both feet, including the pressure against the floor and possible tingling. This is a beautiful moment of standing meditation.
- Then, turn around and walk slowly while giving relaxed attention to the sensations in your feet. Only focus on one foot at the time.
- The souls of the feet are sensitive not unlike the palms. If you can’t sense much, it’s always possible to practice barefoot.
- The only difference with this technique is that you give relaxed attention to the movements of the legs and feet. Together, they form your meditation object.
- Relax your body and walk slowly. Give relaxed attention to what it feels like to walk, become one with the sensation of the body movements. Only focus on one leg at the time, unless you’re standing still.
- Don’t try too hard, just relax. Look straight ahead, not at you legs or feet. Relax and feel the body movements.
Let me clarify why I don’t promote techniques where you think “left foot” when you take a step with your left foot, and “right foot” when you take a step with your right foot.
Techniques like that tend to become mechanical. I agree that it may be easier at first, but meditation is not about thinking. You already know how to do that.
Meditation is the cultivation of plain and simple awareness. So, I favor techniques where you give relaxed attention to the sensations in the souls of the feet or to body movements, without any involvement of thought.
Where to practice
In the very beginning it’s best to practice indoors, since there generally are more distractions outside. With some experience under your belt you can practice in nature, but again, there are more distractions outdoors which does make it more difficult.
By keeping your practice as easy as possible, you’re more likely to make steady progress.
Again, any room will do for walking meditation. Just make sure the ventilation is ok. If it’s noisy where you are, consider using earplugs to cut down on the noise.
Some meditators find it awkward to walk and meditate at the same time, leave alone with open eyes. Give it some time, it’s almost like learning how to walk again. Practice makes perfect!
This is a beautiful part of the walking meditation practice. You stop for a moment and give relaxed attention to what it feels like to stand still. Stop for as long as you like, for 5 seconds or even 1 minute.
Every time you’re about to stop, be aware of your intention to stop. Likewise, every time you’re about to start walking, be aware of your intention to start walking. There is no need to think, “Now I’m going to stop.” Just be aware of the intention.
To be aware of one’s intentions is a profound practice. It’s an effective way to cultivate awareness.
If you don’t like this technique, ignore it for now. It’s more important that you enjoy the practice than anything else.
Walking meditation can be done at a natural pace. Some days you may walk slower and other days slightly faster – that’s perfectly ok. Let it flow naturally, there is no need to control the pace. It’s easier to walk slowly though.
Am I doing it right?
That’s a common question! Follow the basic instructions: relax the body and walk with the back upright, look ahead and not at your legs or feet. Give relaxed attention to the sensations in the souls of your feet or to the movements of your legs and feet.
Relaxed attention is the key to success, never try too hard.
Whenever you get distracted by something, accept it and continue with the practice. Getting frustrated or angry with yourself would only make things worse. So, adopt a forgiving attitude toward yourself.
Where do I focus my eyes?
Just look straight ahead, not at your legs or feet. Give relaxed attention to your meditation object and with some practice you’ll stop thinking about your eyes all together.
Give attention to your meditation object and not to what you see!
How long should I meditate?
5-15 Minutes would be a good start. Then, you can take a short break and continue for another 5-15 minutes, if you like.
It’s not about logging as many hours as possible but rather about quality time. Relax the body, give relaxed attention to your meditation object and enjoy the practice. Again, don’t try too hard.
How often should I practice?
Start with 3 times per week and if you enjoy it, meditate every day. Dedicated meditators practice both in the mornings and evenings.
Meditate whenever you have time at hand and when you’re not under a lot of stress, which makes it harder to stay focused.
A measure of discipline helps a lot when it comes to establishing and maintaining a regular practice. Experiment to find out what works best for you…
Avoiding common mistakes
Meditate in a quiet place, voices are especially distracting. The fewer distractions, the better.
If you catch yourself thinking while practicing, gently go back to your meditation object. That’s part of the learning experience and it’s pointless to get angry about it. Rest assured, that with experience you’ll be able to concentrate for longer periods of time.
Walking and sitting meditation
When you start to get the hang of walking meditation, alternate between walking and sitting meditation. I suggest you do the walking meditation first since it provides fuel for concentration, which supports sitting meditation.
The intervals don’t have to be long. 15 Minutes of walking and 15 minutes of sitting would be a good start. But it’s fine to extend the intervals whenever you feel ready for it.
In the next post called How To Master Walking Meditation we’ll take walking meditation to the next level. Until then, enjoy your practice…