Meditative Walking: The Single Best Exercise For Body, Mind and Spirit
The ancient moving meditation practices of Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong are ideal for managing stress and supporting health. But there’s one research-backed exercise that, above all, fosters well-being, especially for the elderly, people with diabetes and those with limited mobility: meditative walking.
Not everybody does yoga and Tai Chi. But nearly everybody can walk, which makes meditative walking (also called mindful walking) a veritable health panacea for the people.
What Is Meditative Walking?
Think seated meditation only in motion. Seated meditation is difficult and even painful for many people. Meditative walking offers the same benefits of seated contemplation—without the sore, stiff muscles caused by lengthy periods of time being immobile in a seated position. With many people leading sedentary lives and not making enough time in their busy day for exercise, mindful meditation kills two birds with one stone.
What’s the difference between going for a regular walk and a meditative walk? With meditative walking, you focus on the body’s physiological processes that you don’t normally think about while focusing on each step you take, deliberately planting your heel and then smoothly and effortlessly transferring the energy to the foot pads and toes.
Like seated meditation, you should focus every nanosecond of your inhale and exhale. Mindful walking takes some practice just like seated meditation, if not more so because in addition to focusing on your breath, you should also concentrate on the movement of your feet and legs and how they make contact with the ground.
And just like regular walking, you should pay attention to posture. Is your head squarely balanced directly over your shoulders, or are you lost in thought with your head in a position that would make a chiropractor cringe, protruding several inches in front of your neck? It really doesn’t matter where your arms are positioned, although with hands clasped behind the back helps the mind to maintain focus on the movement of the lower body.
Where Is The Best Place To Do Mindful Walking?
Anywhere, really. A park, hiking trail, open space reserve or beach is the most ideal; the negative ions from these spaces offer clinically-proven health benefits. But you can also practice meditative walking in your own home or on the sidewalk in your neighborhood.
Wherever you practice mindful walking, make sure to keep your gaze in front of you with your peripheral vision on the ground. While walking, engage as many senses as you can.
Notice the leaves of trees rustling in the breeze. What smells do you notice? Can you observe anything different about a plant that you’ve walked by hundreds of times before? Tune in to the miracle of color; explore the subtle nuances of green hues in the myriad plants, bushes, trees, vines, etc. in your neighborhood. Notice the hairs on the back of your neck erect when a stiff breeze blows in.
Music While Walking: Yes Or No?
Although you’ll still benefit from mindful meditation if you’re listening to, say, a sonata in D minor by your favorite classical composer, experts on meditative walking recommend not listening to music, even if it’s J.S. Bach.
Speaking of Bach, an article on mindful walking in Natural Awakenings says that the composer and some of the world’s greatest artists spent much of their time engaged in contemplative walks.
What Are The Benefits Of Mindful Walking?
The positive outcomes are mostly the same as the stress-relieving benefits associated with seated meditation.
Natural Awakenings references a study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, which concluded that a half-hour of meditative walking three times a week reduced levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
The 12-week study also demonstrated that people with type 2 diabetes who participated in the study had healthier blood sugar levels. What’s interesting about the study is that the control group weren’t people who just sat on their tushes all day. Rather, the control were regular walkers who did not experience as many benefits as the experimental mindful walking group.
Another study, this one in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also suggests “Buddhist walking meditation” is superior to regular walking. The 45 elderly participants in both groups, aged 60-90 years, all experienced increased muscle strength, flexibility, agility, dynamic balance, cholesterol levels and cardiorespiratory endurance. But only the group engaged in meditative walking experienced a decrease in depression, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, cortisol, and interleukin-6 (a pro-inflammatory protein) concentrations.
How Long Should Your Walk For?
Just like seated meditation, you should set a modest goal of 10-15 minutes and then build up once you start to get the hang of it. You’ll likely experience the same obstacles as seated meditation: thoughts will arise, you’ll forget to focus on your breath and the transfer of weight from foot to foot.
However, the name of the game isn’t to be a perfect, enlightened being who is never distracted. Simply come back to your breath and focus on your next step. And the next. And the next...