The Power of Walking

“Meditation isn’t for me; I could never sit still for so long”. 

Sound familiar? Well, the good news is, you don’t have to. Formal seated meditation is only one way to practice mindfulness. When you’re engaged in a seated meditation, you’re making it easier to focus the attention – generally the eyes are closed, and you are not moving. This cuts out a lot of stimuli that could potentially distract you, which makes seated meditation very supportive when you are first learning about mindfulness, about what it feels like to be aware of what is going on in the present moment. It’s also useful when you want to get really intimate with mind objects – thoughts and emotions – because you aren’t being bombarded with sights or the feeling of the body moving. 

That said, walking meditation can be one of the most powerful practices for engaging in moment-to-moment awareness, and it has the added benefit of getting the body moving. In fact, research shows that compared to running, walking produces similar reductions in risk of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes and possibly Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) when distances are equivalent1. This is particularly relevant during the current pandemic when we are not engaging in a lot of the movement that may have usually been part of our day – commuting to school or work for example.

Usually when we walk, we do so with the purpose of getting to a destination. We can spend the entire time walking totally lost in a sea of thoughts about a conversation that happened the day before, or running through a grocery list for later that day. When doing a walking meditation, we are training ourselves to notice each step, to be aware of the body moving, to feel the contact of our feet with the earth and to notice the space we are walking in. Just like in a seated meditation practice, for that period of walking, we create an intention to just be there – there is nothing to do except be aware of walking.

The process of learning to be aware as you walk can be remarkably useful during times when a seated meditation isn’t an option. For example, you might be on a rotation at the hospital with incredibly long hours or in the middle of exams and feeling stressed for time. In either scenario, this practice of being aware as you move from place to place can become your primary practice. Some argue that walking meditation is the most important component in ensuring that the practice we are doing “on the cushion” can translate into greater awareness in daily life. It forces us out of the habit of only being aware while doing formal seated meditation, and otherwise allowing the mind to be totally lost.  

So, if seated meditation doesn’t fit into your life right now, perhaps try going for a walk (and if you want to do this walk guided, check out our guided walking meditations in both English and French).

(1) Williams PT, Thompson PD. Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk reduction. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology. 2013 May;33(5):1085-91.

This article was written by Zoe O’Neill, a medical student at McGill University and member of the Mindful Medical Learner Team.

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