Mindful Walking: Awakening the Mind and Heart, Blog 3
The practice of mindful walking is a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body, earth, and life.
Often when we walk, we are not in our body—we rush around, lost in our thinking, disconnected from our surroundings. Mindful walking unites our body and mind; each conscious step increases our awareness of the present moment. When we touch the earth with awareness, we stop “sleepwalking” and awaken to the joy of living on this precious earth.
Mindful walking is conscious walking. We practice observing and becoming fully aware of each step and our breath. We wear a half-smile and enjoy our walking.
Mindful walking wakes us up to the here and now. In this present moment we can feel happy and serene, regardless of circumstances. Every mindful step we take generates the energy of peace.
Mindful walking deepens our focus and concentration. Each time we bring our attention to our steps and our breath we train our mind to be present.
Mindful walking helps us to become calm when we are upset. The powerful combination of movement, mindfulness of the body, and appreciation of the present moment calms the sympathetic nervous system (stress response) and strengthens the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response). Step by step we calm the storm inside us. For more information on the neuroscience of mindfulness, read Buddha’s Brain, 2009, by Rick Hanson.
Mindful walking refreshes and energizes us when: we feel tired and groggy, we are sluggish after a meal, or our brain is foggy after sitting at the computer.
Mindful walking deepens our connection to our precious earth. When we walk outdoors with awareness, we appreciate the dandelion in a crack of pavement and gently step around a slug making its way across the sidewalk. These small but significant mindful moments build awareness that we are part of this life-giving planet and motivate us to cherish and care for our earth.
Mindful walking with others generates a powerful collective energy that imprints on the earth. “Collectively, when we walk reverently and solidly on this earth, we send out waves of compassion and peace. It is this compassion that will heal ourselves, each other, and our beautiful green earth.”—Thich Nhat Hanh
The mind can go in a thousand directions.
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindful walking can be done as a meditation practice, where you focus on the sensation of your steps and breath for a specific period of time. For some, focusing on the movement and sensations of walking can be easier than focusing on the more subtle sensations of breathing while sitting in meditation.
Mindful walking can also be easily integrated into your daily life by putting your attention on your steps and breath while going to and from destinations. You can practice mindfulness “on the go” as you walk from one room to another, walk to the mailbox, or walk to and from your car in the parking lot.
- Turn off your cell phone and iPod.
- Take conscious steps and find a pace of ease. See if you can find a pace that keeps you most attentive to the physical experience of walking.
- Bring your attention to your body. Feel the sensations of each step: the tension of the legs and feet, the movement of the leg as it swings in the air. Feel the contact of the foot, as if it were massaging the ground. When you are outdoors, feel each step as an anchor to the earth. “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”—Thich Nhat Hanh
- Be aware of your breathing as you walk. Don’t be concerned about “doing it right.” With practice, attention to your steps and your breath becomes more natural.
- Gently gaze a few feet in front of you, with soft eyes. This helps you maintain attention to your body.
- Wear a light smile; it helps you feel serene.
Walk with the sole intention to enjoy walking—there are no to-do lists, no thinking about past happenings or planning for the future, no worries, no anger. When distracting thoughts come up, notice them without judgment. Bring your attention away from your head and gently refocus on your steps and your breath.
Keep your attention on your body and the sensation of your walking. If you want to enjoy the beauty of nature (a fragrant tree, happy yellow dandelions, a beautiful sunset), stop and give it your full attention. Then return to walking peacefully again.
Be kind to yourself when you notice you are not “in your body.” It is natural to be distracted by thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Simply notice and return your attention to your steps and breathing. Remember your half-smile.
If you already have a walking routine, experiment with integrating mindful walking for part of the time. Try the first 5 minutes to transition from your busy schedule to enjoy your walk. Or, you might try the last 5 minutes when your body/mind is more relaxed and it is easier to stay present.
If you are doing a walking meditation indoors, take off your shoes to connect with the floor/earth more easily.
If you are walking mindfully with a friend or group, walk silently. If you need to say something, stop and say it, and then go back to walking silently.
If you are walking with your dog, a shoulder harness will help him walk more slowly. When your puppy stops to sniff mindfully, you too can mindfully pause, take a breath, and look around to appreciate what you see in nature. Maybe it’s a shiny white moon in the powder blue sky.
Anchor your attention
To help you stay present, you can direct your thoughts to anchor your attention as you walk. Anchoring occupies the thinking mind with a repetitive, conscious thought so your mind is less likely to wander. The words also point your mind toward what you want to observe.
Below are three options to try—label, count, or chant. Choose the anchor that is the most helpful for you.
Label the movement of your feet.
Repeat one of the following:
- Stepping, stepping
- Left foot, right foot
- Lifting, placing
Count the number of steps you take as you breathe.
- Breathe in and count one, two, three, or four steps.
- Breathe out and count five, six, seven, or eight steps.
- Breathe in and go back to one…
When you walk uphill or downhill, your breath and the number of steps will change. Notice what feels right for your lungs and body. You will find your natural connection between your breath and your steps.
You can also count the number of steps as you walk from one place to another.
Chant a Gatha (short phrase).
A Gatha is a Sanskrit term for “song” or “verse.” These Gathas, inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, deepen our appreciation for life. Choose one or more to chant silently to yourself in rhythm with your steps:
- “I have arrived, I am home.”
- “Pleasant moment, Wonderful moment.”
- “Precious earth, I am home.”
Gathas can be shortened to just the key words:
- “Arrived, Home”
- “Pleasant, Wonderful”
- “Precious, Home”
Learn more about using Gathas with Thich Nhat Hanh’s
Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses For Daily Living.
Mindful walking can happen anywhere:
- In walking meditation in the fresh morning air
- Alone in nature, with a friend or puppy, or in a group
- Throughout the day in our homes (from our bedroom to the bathroom, living room, or kitchen)
- In the classroom, office, or gym, up and down stairs, in a hallway
- Going to the mailbox, bus stop, or grocery store
- In our neighborhoods, the airport, or parking lot
- Anywhere and anytime
Practicing Mindful Walking
Awakening the Heart Mindfulness Retreat,
led by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), UBC, August, 2011
During the retreat, everyone in the community began the day with a slow, mindful walk—without a destination, without being in a hurry, we walked to enjoy walking. Thay taught us that with each mindful step you take, you have arrived home in the present moment, wonderful moment.
The University of British Columbia campus is so beautiful. During our walks, sometimes we would stop to notice a special tree or fragrant flower and have a “10-breath moment!” During this moment, we’d take 10 slow, deep in-breaths and out-breaths to appreciate nature and our beautiful earth. For more about this practice, see Ten Breaths to Happiness, 2013, by Glen Schneider.
Walking mindfully with 800 retreat participants was a powerful collective experience and a sight to behold for the other students on the UBC campus!
Wishes for Your Daily Practice
We’ve created a pdf of the following wishes, each in a mindfulness circle, as gentle reminders for your daily mindful walking practice to awaken your mind and heart.
♥ May I realize that walking on this earth is a miracle.
♥ May I walk slowly and consciously today.
♥ May I breathe and walk mindfully to refresh myself.
♥ May I dwell in the present moment, anchored by my mindful steps.
♥ May I walk mindfully to enjoy our beautiful earth.
♥ May I smile, breathe, and walk slowly.
Please click here to download your gift:
Mindful Walking Circles
You can print, clip, laminate, and post the circles in your home (on mirrors, near your sitting area), car (on the dash), and office (on your computer). You can also place the circles in a basket and select one to focus on during the day.
Books by Thay
Click on the title to view or purchase.
How to Walk, 2015
by Thich Nhat Hanh
When you touch the Earth with awareness,
you can stop “sleepwalking” and arrive fully
in the present moment.—Thich Nhat Hanh
A Guide to Walking Meditation, 2013
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh instructs students in the joys of this simple practice.
His underlying theme: be happy, peaceful, and serene.
♥Awakening the Mind & Heart: Daily Mindfulness Practices 4 Life
♥Daily Mindfulness Practices 4 Life: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 1
♥Mindful Breathing: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 2
♥Mindful Walking: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 3
♥Mindful Eating: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 4
♥Mindful Loving: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 5
Thich Nhat Hanh quotations and book content are reprinted with permission from Parallax Press, 2015.
Pictures Thay and his calligraphy are reprinted with permission from Plum Village, 2015.