Walking meditation is a mindfulness technique that focuses a person’s full attention to all aspects of the motions of walking in the present moment. With each step, the goal is to focus on physical sensations and breathing with a non-judgmental attitude. Mindful walking can be a helpful way to begin meditating, especially when sitting still may be difficult or uncomfortable.
What Is Walking Meditation?
Walking meditation, sometimes called mindful walking, refers to the mindfulness practice of walking while giving your full attention to the movements and the feelings it produces. It is a mindfulness technique that aims to bring one’s focus to their experiences in the present moment without judgment. In other words, it is a “meditation in motion.”1
People of all ages can practice walking meditation in various ways, including walking in a slow line, in a circle, or throughout a garden. When participating in any of these techniques, the goal is to be free to move as you usually do, noticing each portion of your typical movement patterns. People often practice mindful walking outdoors to increase what meditation can bring by tapping into the benefits of nature. However, you can practice it in any setting where you can focus and feel safe. Walking meditation may also be adapted for people who use wheelchairs or other adaptive devices.
Benefits of Walking Meditation
One advantage of walking meditation is that it does not require sitting still, which can be remarkably uncomfortable and challenging if you are anxious or just starting to practice mindfulness. There are many styles of mindfulness and meditation practices available, so you may benefit from finding the ones that suit your style, preferences, and abilities, which will give you the best chances of success.
While there are few scientific studies specifically on the benefits of walking meditation, a wealth of mindfulness literature from specialists discusses the advantages of the overarching category of mindfulness. The benefits of mindfulness techniques are unique to each individual but are easy to use alongside your alternative treatments or in mindfulness-based therapies, helping to overcome common concerns related to mood, stress, and personality disorders, including negative feelings, poor concentration, and lack of compassion.
Benefits of walking meditation include:
- Improves concentration: Concentration is a learnable skill that people can improve with practice in walking meditation. As you practice “single-mindedly,” focusing on your walking and constantly bringing your attention back to it without judgment, your concentration improves through repetition.
- Reduces anxiety: Existing research has shown that mindfulness and meditation can elicit a calming effect through grounding techniques. Its use can help implement healthy coping skills to handle ongoing anxiety symptoms.
- Improves mood: A 2016 study of 72 participants showed that a mindfulness exercise improved measures of mood.7
- Decreases stress: Research studies show that regularly practicing mindfulness can reduce overall stress.8
- Reduces depression: A 2014 study specifically examining Buddhist walking meditation found that it can lower symptoms of depression, especially in elderly individuals.9
- Improves physical health: Walking meditation is a unique practice because it uses exercise, helping to reduce physical health symptoms, which is remarkably beneficial for mental health.10
- Improves balance: The increased focus on the physical process of walking improved balance among study participants.10
- Lowers LDL cholesterol: As with many forms of physical exercise, walking meditation can reduce LDL cholesterol often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, which can accumulate in and damage one’s arteries.10
- Improves Blood Pressure: A study of people with diabetes who used walking meditation found that their blood pressure was much lower when compared with regular walking.11
Use of walking meditation becomes a protective factor for those with anxiety disorders which can develop high blood pressure in episodes.
- Greater Awareness of the Body: You can become more aware of your internal physical self by engaging in a mindfulness practice that focuses on the body. This increased awareness can benefit your mental health by helping you listen to your body’s signals, such as the early signs of a panic attack.12
Mindful Walking for Mental Health
Many individuals and therapists have observed that one of the best benefits of walking meditation is its development of mindfulness for anxiety, a common symptom of various mental health disorders. This mindfulness aims to slow down a person’s mind and change their relationship with their thoughts. When we routinely practice having a non-judgmental attitude toward our thoughts, we can see them in a new light.
Regular meditation clarifies our automatic thinking patterns, creating new opportunities to challenge and shift negative thoughts. Mindful walking meditation takes this a step further, emulating the idea of changing our mindset by putting that cognitive desire to challenge our negative thoughts into physical activity and changing our environment.
While there are currently no studies on the effects of walking meditation on anxiety, similar forms of mindfulness have shown they can reduce anxiety symptoms.2,3
Despite this, some researchers have reviewed various studies on the subject and have suggested that meditation may not affect anxiety.4,5
More research is needed to determine how walking meditation can benefit those with anxiety disorders to maximize the potential of its perceived benefits.
How to Start Practicing Walking Meditation
To begin practicing walking meditation, start with a shorter walk and find a neutral safe space. Start with a stroll, and focus on not rushing or pushing the pace. Pay close attention to the sensation of walking as your muscles tense, feet roll onto the ground, arms gently swing, and core engages to keep you steady. Also, be sure to pay plenty of attention to your breath! When your mind wanders (and it will!), gently, non-judgmentally, and kindly redirect your attention to the motions associated with walking.
Here are 13 tips for getting started with a walking meditation practice:
- Find the Right Area: When choosing a location to walk, find a place where you can feel safe and at ease. Focusing on your internal self will be easier when you feel comfortable in the space around you.
- Use “Beginner’s Mind”: The Beginner’s Mind, or “shoshin,” is a Buddhist zen concept in which one keeps their mind open to many possibilities. A beginner’s mind may allow you to approach walking meditation with an open mindset, where you can try again without shame and approach the new task with a growth mindset.
- Practice Non-judgment: Similar to a beginner’s mind, purposefully generate a non-judgmental attitude. Non-judgement is a core part of mindfulness that allows you to be patient with yourself as you learn a new skill. A non-judgmental attitude can be a life-changing experience in how you relate to others when you learn to harness it.
- Accept Your Mind Will Wander: Your mind is meant to think, and think it will! When your mind wanders, use your non-judgmental stance to focus it back towards your walking gently. It is unreasonable to expect that your mind will not wander, but the good thing is that each time you notice your mind wandering, you practice mindfulness!
- Start Small: Set a goal for your walking meditation that feels reasonable. Perhaps that is one lap of your chosen area within two or five minutes or however long it takes. Start with an objective that is easily attainable to cultivate an enjoyable experience. As you gain comfort and confidence, you can slowly increase the distance or length for which you walk.
- Create a Regular Routine: As with many mindfulness techniques, there is great benefit in practicing walking meditation regularly. The benefits can be gradual, so it is vital to continue your training, even if you don’t experience the benefits immediately.
- Always Look For Something New: One way to keep a mindfulness practice fresh and your attention engaged is to look for something new to focus on each time. For example, one day, you may notice how your toes help you balance or your core engaging, and then the next, you can see how your breath changes as you step. Be open to a wide variety of experiences!
- Move slowly: As you take your time on your stroll, you’ll notice the minuscule movements and shifts in your body that may get overlooked during such a natural process.
- Try Other Forms of Mindfulness: As mentioned previously, there are many forms of mindfulness, and you want to find the best fit for you. Experimenting with various techniques can help illuminate your other skills in walking mindfulness, provide additional tools to manage your symptoms, and identify what you respond to.
- Seek Support: In disciplined meditation, it is natural to come up against walls, frustrations, or questions. Seek out a local meditation group or other medical professionals as needed.
- Experiment With Your Eyes Open or Closed: While some may prefer having their eyes closed during meditation, people who have experienced trauma may feel unsafe with closed eyes and want to keep them open. Do what helps you be most mindful despite what others might be doing!
- Practice In Nature: For added benefit, practice in an outdoor area! Nature can be beneficial for mental health. Make sure it is where you feel safe and can concentrate.
- Try walking with a slight smile: Thich Naht Hahn recommends practicing with a half-smile to cultivate delight and bring lightness to the practice.12
Experiment and see if this brings new energy to your practice!
Is Walking Meditation Effective?
Walking meditation can be an effective route to practicing mindfulness, especially for those seeking an alternative to seated meditation. While walking meditation has been the subject of only a few studies, mindfulness is still well known to help with stress, anxiety, and depression when incorporated into many forms of therapy.13
Learning to focus on one activity without judging yourself can help you become more aware of how your mind works. Plus, redirecting your mind when it wanders can help to teach you healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with negative thoughts.
If you want to start practicing mindfulness, walking meditation may be a wonderful place to start. It can help people with difficulties sitting still and has a wide variety of benefits. As you begin, practice for small amounts of time, and be sure to embrace a non-judgmental mindset. Enjoy your “meditation in motion”!
For Further Reading
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Health
- Poem by Thich Nhat Hahn about Walking Meditation
- Free Guided Meditations from UCLA
- Buddhify App Review 2022
Phone Apps for Mindfulness: