When we envision meditation, we tend to think of it as a seated practice, which in the traditional sense it is. However, we don’t have to be still to meditate. Walking meditation is a form that, as you might have guessed, involves walking, but doing so mindfully and with awareness.
Let’s be honest, meditating isn’t always the easiest of practices, especially when you’ve got a lot on your mind. Walking meditation could be the solution, helping to center the mind through movement. But it does involve a little more than just ambling through the park.
What is Movement Meditation?
Walk with intention. It’s easy to revert to autopilot when walking, especially if it's a route we’re familiar with, but the key is to remain intentional and in the present moment. We can do this by bringing our attention to the act of walking itself, noticing the feeling of picking the foot up and placing it down. Consider your surroundings, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the feel of the air. Is it damp or dry?
It’s likely that thoughts will take over at some point, an errand to run or an email you haven’t responded to, it’s only natural. The trick is to be aware when this happens. Our thoughts are powerful and can make it difficult to remain in the present moment. So, when this does happen, acknowledge the thought and redirect your attention back to your senses and the movement involved in walking.
Okay, time to dig into the benefits.
The Benefits of Walking Meditation
Walking meditation can be a beneficial alternative for those who are sat for long periods of time during the day, boosting blood flow and helping to reduce feelings of lethargy.
A study into the effects of walking meditation among young adults found that aerobic exercise combined with meditation could improve anxiety states. Those that showed the greatest improvement in their anxiety level either meditated before or after walking, compared with those participants who walked without meditating.
Reduced anxiety can help to improve sleep disturbances. Though not only this, regular meditation can increase the production of melatonin, the hormone that helps to regulate your circadian rhythm and sleep.
Walking meditation has been shown to help improve cognitive function. One research study analysed the benefits of Tai Chi and brisk walking for cognitive function and fitness in older adults. Participants were categorised into three groups, the Tai Chi group, the walking group and the control group. Each group was asked to complete the Stroop test and a digit comparison task.
The results showed participants that had participated in exercise to perform significantly better in the tasks than the control group. However, it was noted that Tai Chi benefited cognitive functions more due to the high cognitive demands of the exercise, which suggests that walking meditation should improve our focus more than traditional walking as exercise involving cognitive demands tends to improve our processing levels of cognition.
As we all know, exercising releases endorphins known as the ‘feel-good’ chemicals. Research has been carried out into the feasibility of mindful walking as a means to maintain mindfulness skills after cognitive therapy (MBCT) or a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course.
Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire before and after the mindful walking session, analysing depression, anxiety and stress levels, brooding and mindfulness skills. The results showed that mindful walking in nature may be an effective way to maintain mindfulness practice and further improve psychological functioning.
Research has shown walking meditation to benefit our physical health as well as mental. A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, analysed the effects of walking based meditation as opposed to traditional walking exercise on depression, functional fitness and vascular reactivity. The study showed walking meditation to lower markers of inflammation and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, commonly known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol, better than traditional walking.
If you’re ready to get those mindful steps in, check out our blog on 10,000 Steps a Day: What’s in the magic number?Practice your walking meditation in comfort and style in our L’ACTIF Life Half Zip Sweatshirt.