- Walking meditation can be an alternative for those who don’t like to meditate while sitting still.
- During walking meditation, you’ll focus on the sensations in your feet, as opposed to focusing on your breathing during many other types of meditation.
- The benefits of walking meditation include better balance, improved mental health, and lower risk of chronic illness.
- This article was reviewed by Erin Woo, MEd, assistant director of mindfulness in education at the Mindfulness Centre at Brown University.
- This story is part of Insider’s guide on How to Meditate.
When you think of meditation, you likely think of a person sitting cross-legged, hands on knees, eyes closed, breathing slowly, and intentionally. That’s not an inaccurate portrait. Meditation is often referred to as sitting meditation. But that style may not be right for everyone.
Walking meditation is another option. In some mindfulness practices, you might focus on your breath, but in walking meditation, you focus on the sensations in your feet.
Here’s what you should know about the health benefits of walking meditation and how to practice it.
Benefits of walking meditation
Some people benefit from being in motion. If you pace while you brainstorm, do your best thinking during a workout, or need a fidget spinner to concentrate, you may be one of these people.
Both walking and meditation have their own mental and physical health benefits, so it’s no surprise that a combination of the two can be especially useful. Benefits specific to walking meditation include:
In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Body Work and Movement Therapies, walking meditation led to improved balance in elderly women.
In the study, women who did 30 minute walking meditations three times a week showed improvements on the Berg Balance Scale, which measures the ease or difficulty of 17 different movements, the Functional Reach Test, which measures how far you can reach forward without taking a step, and the Timed Up and Go test, which times how fast you can get up out of a chair and walk 10 feet.
Help manage chronic illness, like diabetes
A 2016 study published in the Complementary Therapies in Medicine found increased benefits of walking meditation compared to regular walking in people with type 2 diabetes.
After 12 weeks, patients who did walking meditation had lower blood glucose levels and lower HbA1c, arterial stiffness, and cortisol levels – all signs of increased cardiovascular fitness.
Improve mental health
Walking meditation has also been shown to reduce depression in adults ages 60 to 90 with moderate to mild depressive symptoms.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine compared walking meditation to traditional walking exercise and found only the walking meditation decreased symptoms of depression.
How to practice walking meditation
It’s important to note that walking meditation is not the same thing as trying to be more mindful on your morning walk to the subway. And while it’s possible to enter a meditative state while walking, that isn’t exactly the same, either.
A walking meditation is a specific technique. There are different variations of walking meditation, but the basic steps are similar. You walk in a straight line, taking your time, using the sensations in your feet as the anchor for your attention.
Here’s how Jon Krop, a Brooklyn-based attorney who leads Mindfulness for Lawyers, does his daily walking meditation practice:
- Draw an imaginary line on the floor. It doesn’t matter if it is 50 feet or 5 feet, inside or outside, just as long as it is a clear path to walk. While walking in nature has been shown to improve health, and may generally be more enjoyable, a walking meditation can be done anywhere. Krop says he uses a wide section of footpath in his Brooklyn neighbourhood. During the winter, he practices in his apartment. The imaginary line in this case is shorter, but just as valuable.
- Walk along the line, slowly and mindfully.Normal walking is about getting somewhere, but walking meditation is not, so take your time. Your breath should be relaxed and natural. Your arms and hands can rest however they feel comfortable – at your sides, clasped in front or behind you, or swaying gently.
- Focus on the sensations in your feet as you lift one foot, move it forward, place it on the ground, and finally move weight onto it. Make sure you finish one step before starting the next. “In walking meditation, you complete one step before you start to lift the next foot,” Krop says.
- Make a 180-degree turn, still focusing on the movements, one step at a time. It may be helpful to pause here, and breathe.
- Walk back along the same line, in the same way. Your attention will likely wander – to a thought, a sound, an itch on your face – and that’s ok, says Krop. Notice it, and then bring your attention back to the sensations of your feet. “That back and forth, that ebb and flow – that’s how meditation should look,” Krop says. “That is proper, perfect meditation.”
You probably don’t want to have headphones in during your walking meditation, unless you are doing a guided walking meditation.
You can do it with a friend, although if you are hoping to chat and catch up, a regular walk is a better idea. If you do have a walking meditation partner, make sure you have a clear path so you don’t crash into each other.
There isn’t a set speed for a walking meditation – just don’t rush. You aren’t going for a set distance, generally, because you are walking back and forth. Some teachers recommend 10 minutes a day.
Krop himself does an hour of walking meditation a day, but says length is less important than consistency. There is a saying often repeated by meditation teachers that sums it up this way: the only bad meditation is the one you didn’t do.
Related articles from Health Reference:
- 12 must-know meditation tips for beginners
- Exercise for depression: How regular physical activity can help mental health
- The 5 most common types of meditation – and how to choose the best type for you
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