by Kate Lynch
My current meditation practice is relevant to what’s happening now. It is triage. It must sustain and comfort, feeding me courage as I manage my chronic anxiety and stay present with the suffering of the world. I’m going back to familiar, gentle practices.
Seated meditation feels incongruent right now, even as an experienced meditation teacher. There’s already too much sitting, and my worrying mind won’t tolerate it. The anxiety wins out over the witness, to the point that it is intolerable. I am too triggered. So, I turn to what’s most soothing. Journaling. Restorative postures. Self-massage. Compassion practices. Walking meditation.
These days, my walks are one of the only times I go outside. So, I’m finding them incredibly precious. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to go for walks.
Walking meditation is something I can take refuge in right now. Feeling my feet on the earth, one and then the next. Sometimes I’ll simply listen. Sometimes I’ll use a breath pattern. Affirmation and mantra connected to my breath, in rhythm with my steps.
I get curious about the relationship between what’s going on in the world, and how my body is responding.
The Zen Buddhist master and global spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh offers simple, accessible guidance for walking meditation in his many books. My favorite is "The Long Road Turns to Joy." He suggests that we visualize walking like an aimless tiger. I love this image. It helps me feel at ease.
One thing I’ve noticed when I encourage people to try walking meditation, is that they start very tentatively and their arms might move stiffly. It helps me to think of an aimless tiger, so that I get my whole body involved in the action of enjoying the walk.
I wonder if you could let your arms swing and let your hips move. Walk majestically, as if nothing in the world could bother you, and you have nowhere to be. Nowhere to go. No destination.
Then, you can be very aware. Mindful of your surroundings, simply appreciate them. Appreciate the feel of wind on your skin, birds in the trees, the countless colors of green, the smell of mulch and the taste of dust.
All of this can be allowed to wash over you as you amble like an aimless tiger.
Affirmations are so personal. You can adapt them to feel authentic to you. If I’m in need of grounding, I say to myself “I am home” on the first step, “I have arrived” with the next. You can alternate between them with every step, and continue. If there’s a sense of doubt, when I’m really at a loss, I might add on. With each step I repeat “I am home,” “I have arrived,” “I am worthy,” “I belong here.”
You might choose to walk with one intention. For example, to lift the suffering of the world. To bring harmony to nature and all beings. To stand up for equity. What feels most essential right now? Is there a word or phrase that resonates on a visceral level? Breathe that same word or phrase in and out. Fill yourself with your intention, and share it with the world. What’s coming to you?
Dr. Gail Parker, in her book Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma, writes: “Ask yourself how you would most like to feel... Receive it however it comes to you... Inhale the feeling until you are completely filled with it. Exhale the feeling until it surrounds you.”
If you feel distant, isolated or lonely, your word might be love. Breathe in, knowing you are loved. Breathe out, knowing you are loving.
Walk in a way that brings you closer to your relationship with the earth and all beings. You can notice how many steps it takes to repeat your intention. Align with your integrity in every step.
This is an invigorating walking meditation that helps me focus, combining breath rhythm with steps. I learned this long ago from Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, PhD, leading meditation trainer and author of "Breathwalk: Breathing Your Way to a Revitalized Body, Mind and Spirit."
I get into a steady pace, allowing my arms to swing naturally. I begin to inhale in 4 segmented sniffs as I take 4 steps. Then I exhale in 4 sniffs as I take 4 more steps. Imagine the breath originating at your belly.
If you can do all of that for a while, and start to enjoy the rhythm, you can then add in mudra, or hand positions. Press your thumb into the pad of your index finger on the first sniff, middle finger for the second sniff, ring finger for the third and pinky finger for the fourth. Practice that.
Finally, rather than counting to 4, you can silently recite a simple mantra: Sa-Ta-Na-Ma. These seed sounds represent the cycle of creation: infinity, life, death, rebirth. Mentally listen to one syllable per sniff.
There’s a lot going on in Breathwalk. The good news about that is, it can intercept ruminating thoughts. Replacing a repetitive negative thought with present moment awareness is a "step" along the path of awakening.
Try building up your capacity intermittently. Toggle between a few minutes of Breathwalk and a more unstructured walking meditation.
Caution! These sniffing practices can be really challenging while wearing a mask. I wear a mask when I’m anywhere near other people. Please be especially conscious of the internal effect of this breathing. If you remove your mask, pay close attention to your proximity to others. If you become lightheaded or spaced out, stop! Breathe naturally.
Mindfulness doesn’t mean stiffness or seriousness. There’s nothing fancy about it. It means actually really drinking in the whole experience that you’re in in the moment. Recognize what’s around you, without judgement. Notice the soles of your feet. Maybe turn up the corners of your mouth in a little smile, and be present as you take your walk.
If there’s a time when you feel captivated, curious, or grateful about some detail of your surroundings- the sound of geese calling out overhead, the grassy scent in the air, or the sight of clouds passing- pause. Allow your feet to stand on the earth. Pause in non-doing presence. Without labeling or identifying or grasping the experience, simply drink it in. Pause on the spot until your aimless tiger is ready to continue on its ramble.
The Path of Awakening
From "The Long Road Turns to Joy" by Thich Nhat Hanh:
“When you are awake, you will not hesitate to enter any path. You will suffer, not just from your own worries and fears, but because of your love for all beings. When you open yourself in this way, your companions will be other beings on this path of awakening who share your insight. They will work with you, side-by-side, to alleviate the world's suffering.”
You can listen to a podcast on this theme of The Path of Awakening: Walking Meditation in Pandemic Times on the Healthy Happy Yoga Podcast. I hope you’ll join me on the path of awakening, and experience a sense of gratitude, purpose, and mindfulness during your walking meditation.
Kate has advanced education in meditation, mindfulness, anxiety, trauma, integrating equity, prenatal, and postpartum yoga. She specializes in supporting anxious parents of atypical kids with the mindfulness, resilience, and self-care tools that help her get through the day. See: HealthyHappyYoga website, Healthy Happy Yoga Podcast, Healthy Happy Yoga YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.
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