Updated: Nov 16, 2021
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I learned to walk before my first birthday. As my earliest mode of self-transportation, walking allowed me to seek out the curiosities of the world on my own. This desire to seek has led me on walks of varying lengths in some of nature’s most beautiful locations.
My parents fueled my love of mindful walking in nature. We spent my childhood summer weekends at our cabin in northern Arizona. My dad would quietly wake me as soon as the sun came up on those pine-scented mornings. Together, we would sneak out of the cabin and explore the forest, allowing my mom a chance to sleep in while we hunted for mushrooms and wild animal tracks.
I was acutely aware of the scents, sounds, and scenes around me--the squawking of Stellar’s jays, the buzzing wings of ruby-throated hummingbirds, and the chattering of squirrels as they leaped from branch to branch.
Although these things were a part of my summertime daily life, they were more vibrant during those early morning walks.
We spoke in hushed voices, careful not to frighten the deer and other woodland creatures. My dad would point out tracks or scat or broken twigs and always reminded me to get my bearings by looking up to see where the sun sat in the sky and which side of the trees grew moss.
These mornings became my earliest introduction to a form of walking meditation—a practice that would teach me an awareness of my breath and give me a way to reduce stress. I would pay attention to each footstep, carefully lifting and placing each foot as quietly as possible and listening as each gentle step resulted in the increasingly quieter crunching of pine needles.
My focus improved as I listened to my breathing. Anxiety dwindled away with each deep breath. It was truly amazing that an action as simple as walking—something that was part of my everyday life—could become a moving meditation and bring stillness to such an adventurous and active little girl.
I no longer have access to that cabin in the pines, but I still practice the things my dad taught me. In adulthood, I learned that what came so naturally to me through years of childhood exploration was similar to what many call walking meditation.
Although there are many forms of meditation, walking meditation is my favorite. I have trouble sitting still—I get fidgety and must at least be doing something with my hands. Because of this, walking meditation gives me a balanced release of energy while creating a sense of inner calm and connection to nature.
Walking meditation—or a meditative walk—is not the same as simply “going for a walk.” There is no destination; a walking meditation is truly about the journey.
To begin, find a location where you can walk slowly and deliberately, where you will not be concerned about drawing attention to yourself, and where you do not have to pay close attention to traffic or other hazards.
You can use a path in nature or a hallway in your home. The point isn’t to get somewhere but to find stillness through movement. Mindful walking brings you into the present moment.
Stand still, soften your gaze, and take several slow, deep breaths. As you move forward, put your awareness into each step: the lifting of your right foot, how the foot swings slowly forward, and how it feels as it once again connects to the ground. Maintain your attentiveness as you lift, swing, and lower your left foot.
Take another deep breath and pay close attention to the physical sensations in your body. Mindful walking can help you reconnect with your body and ease physical stress through awareness.
Unlike guided meditation, a walking meditation does not need a soundtrack. It becomes a mindfulness meditation on its own as you learn to focus on the movement of your body and let go of the thoughts buzzing in your mind.
As you practice, you will find that taking a mindful walk becomes easier with experience, and you may grow to truly enjoy the gentle exercise.
This practice is especially benefitted by walking barefoot so that you can intimately feel the sensations of grass or sand or even a plush rug underneath your feet.
If your walking path is in a limited location—such as an indoor hall—or when you have finished walking in one direction, turn and repeat the practice as you return to your starting place.
When you become skilled at sensing and hearing each footstep, allow yourself to listen to the sounds around you as you advance your walking meditation practice. Pay attention to the air and the colors around you. Allow yourself to be in the moment.
Birdsong will become clearer, you will become more aware of the feeling of the breeze brushing lightly against your cheek, and you may even notice the fragrance of blossoms wafting through the air.
Did you ever notice before that those roses were such a soft shade of pink? Has the sunset ever had so many variations of pastel hues? When was the last time you heard the leaves rustling in the trees?
Note: If you have an injury or are unable to walk, you can adapt this meditation to your level of ability. Instead of listening to your footsteps, you might choose to listen to the sounds of the wheels on your chair or the tap of your cane on the sidewalk. You can also try a sitting meditation if walking just isn’t your thing.
Try to make this mindful walking meditation part of your regular routine. As you learn to slow down and turn your attention to the little things we often overlook, you will find yourself looking forward to these moments of stillness and the secrets they reveal.
Want an indoor stress-relieving activity for rainy days? Click here to learn how journaling can help relieve stress.