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On Mindful Walking

My daughter, Sky, a handful of years ago at our local labyrinth.

Yesterday, I held a mini-retreat of 3.5 hours, for grads of my classes. It was something that seemed to be needed and was appreciated. The participants spent three hours in silence while I lightly guided them through practices, and then they broke silence in triads.

I had a few favorite moments. Yes, I know, I shouldn't grasp at them. But they might be of help to you. Here's one:

In attendance was gentleman had never been a fan of mindful walking. He had a serious dislike for it, and during his daylong Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) retreat last Spring, he had a tough time getting through it (and we did it more than once that day). Yesterday, however, he found it "charming to walk a 6-foot mat with no place to go."

We're not looking to like a practice or not; we're just looking to do it and whatever happens happens. But what happened here, which is what happens always if we're paying attention, is that things change.

You don't need a labyrinth and you don't have to like mindful walking. But why not try it on?

  1. If it's your first time, you might want to choose a space where there aren't a lot of people. During retreats, we are sometimes at venues where there are groups who aren't on retreat, and it's always interesting to mindfully walk among them. We don't look at anyone on retreat, which is helpful, but that doesn't mean we don't feel the gaze of others as we slowly walk and turn and walk and turn. Whatever space you've chosen for your walk, decide on a lane of sorts, perhaps the length of a yoga mat, with the intention of remaining in that space. In fact, we frequently walk on a yoga mat, as that removes some human error (e.g., being distracted to the point that you just keep walking). Being on a mat provides wonderful guidance. You know when to turn!

  2. Set a timer/alarm for 15 minutes, and orient yourself by looking around for a moment. Where are you? What surrounds you? Mindful walking isn't about your surroundings, so if you choose to be outside remember that this isn't a nature walk. Getting into the habit of orienting yourself wherever you are, however, is helpful for situational awareness as well as present-moment awareness.

  3. Bring your attention inward, to your body, standing. What's it like to stand? Can you tell you're standing, from the inside out? Are there sensations that tell you that you are upright and not sitting?

  4. At some point, you will decide to begin to walk. What is that moment like? Which foot will you begin with?

  5. Your pace should be slow enough to allow you to notice all of the sensations involved in walking, but not so slow that you lose your balance.

  6. When you get to the end of the mat or the point you've decided to turn, how exactly does the turn play out? Maybe play with turning in different ways, each time noticing which parts of the body are engaged and when, and what sensations are involved.

  7. You might find yourself thinking a lot about how you're walking and turning, when ordinarily you don't think about such things at all! When this happens, the guidance is just like the guidance for focused attention, and here, the sensations of the body moving are your anchor points. Mindful walking is a body scan in motion, similar to the yoga we do in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Each time the mind gets pulled away from the body and starts to think about how you are walking or turning, kindly, gently bring it back to the sensations in the body.

That's it! Let me know how it goes for you:

There's so much to learn about the mind and body through walking--or doing any activity--with mindful awareness. Join me or give me your kids, people!

The first round of Summer courses is underway, and here's what the next few months brings:

Here are some guided mediations to give you more context around the body scan, focused attention, and anchors.

May you be at ease . . .



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