Walking may not be the first image that comes to mind when you think about meditation. However, the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can be a spiritual practice that enables you to be in the moment and connect with yourself. Depending on how you choose to practice your walking meditation, this ritual can energize or calm you—it’s up to you to create the type of experience that you need. “Walking at sunrise or sunset can be a particularly beautiful and sacred time of day,” says Julie Haber, M.Div, director of spirituality at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. “You can choose to walk when you are inspired to walk, or when you feel stuck or frustrated in some way. Sometimes walking with intention and purpose is what helps shift us into optimism and helps move difficult energies.”
Haber suggests leaving your phone at home or putting it on silent if you bring it along. Take the time you need—or have—and make the most of it. “You may just need 10 minutes. The more often you can make this a regular practice, the more beneficial it can be,” notes Haber.
Consider these three types of walking meditations:
Whether you’re in the suburbs or the city, taking a walk outside allows you to connect with your surroundings. As you begin your walk, set an intention—maybe it’s to have more peace in your life or to call upon your strengths. While you’re walking, be mindful of that intention as you look for things you might not normally notice—wildlife, flowers. “Take in the sounds, smells and visuals around you,” says Haber. “Be aware of how your body feels as it moves. If you’re on a beach or in the grass, try walking barefoot and enjoy the touch of the earth on your skin.”
You can choose to be silent or you may decide to allow others to be a part of your meditation. Maybe you make an effort to smile at a stranger or pay someone a compliment as you pass by. Or if you’d rather tune out the noise around you, listen to some soothing music. “You’re creating this meditative space—it can include whatever you want it to,” notes Haber.
Choose a destination where you can sit and reflect or say a prayer before you walk back.
Sometimes a walking meditation is less about where you’re going and more about turning inward and listening to yourself. Walking in a circle allows you to concentrate on practicing mindfulness, as you are destination free. “So often we are focused on ‘arriving’ somewhere; when we walk in a circle it naturally induces a state of meditative awareness,” notes Haber. “Walk around a track, a lake, or anywhere that is circular. I can remember being a kid in third grade and walking around the block with my best girl friend at the time. Although we were not consciously walking meditatively, it actually felt like a meditation, as we shared our secrets and planned our lives, sometimes looping around the block multiple times. This was a ritual that continued through high school with the same friend, and I realized in retrospect that it was a special time.” Whether you choose to do this walk alone, or with someone, choose your pace and pay attention to your body, your needs and your thoughts. Notice how your feet land on the ground, how your legs feel. Think about what’s bothering you or what you want to accomplish in the next week or month. This is your time to feel, observe, listen.”
A labyrinth—a circle that creates a spiral—is considered a sacred symbol. And while not everyone has access to a labyrinth, you might just find that your local community has one, and it can be a wonderful place for a meditative walk. If you’re able to visit one, spend some time in silence before you begin the walk. “Some people aim to let go of something as they travel inward to the center of the spiral,” says Haber. “On the return, they think about something they want to move toward inviting into their life.” But you can also just set a simple intention as you walk the labyrinth. I intend to listen to a friend today. I intend to show my gratitude today. When you reach the center of the spiral, say a prayer or sit in silence before you make your way back out.