As with all questions, there are multiple answers. Different people you ask will have learned a variety of techniques. And of course, they will tell you what has worked best for them.
Ultimately, you need to find your own way. And this will be any way that enables you to achieve your meditation goals.
In this post, I would like to share with you some of what I have learned during my 25-plus years of meditating in the hopes that it will help you find your own way.
How Should I Breathe During Walking Meditation?
The best results from meditation are always achieved when nothing specific is actively sought. A meditative state is something we achieve by allowing what is unnecessary to fall away… not by adding more rules and expectations to our already busy minds. Therefore, before you do your walking meditation, just set the intention to be ‘at ease’ and then begin walking. You will find, with a little time that you will quite naturally achieve a balanced and beneficial breathing rhythm.
Should My Breathing Match My Steps During Walking Meditation?
Many of us learned that we need to focus our attention on our breath as well as the physical sensations in our bodies for walking meditation to be most effective.
I tried this approach for a while but it didn’t work for me. Why? Because like everyone else, my mind is only capable of thinking one thing at a time.
I know many of you probably think you are super-capable multi-taskers….. however, while we may unconsciously be able to do several things at once, the human brain can only ‘consciously’ focus on one task.
So you can either notice your breath, then your feet touching the ground, then your spinal alignment, and then your breath…. etc. but not everything at once. And, really, looking for more things to think about creates more for the mind to cling on to, to seek out, to be consumed by…. and this is not what we are wanting from our practice.
It is the way we feel rather than what we are thinking about that lets us know if we are in a meditative state or not. And what we are feeling is a direct result of the thoughts we are having…..
The object of walking meditation is not to complicate things by thinking but rather to become aware that we are walking, aware of any sensations, and aware of our breath. We do not want to get tied up in assessing or judging how we are doing, but rather just be ‘an observer’ of the experience.
Therefore, consciously thinking about trying to match our breath to our steps will defeat this purpose. And we don’t want our conscious minds to be engaged in trying to figure out if we are doing it right or not.
What Should I Focus On During Walking Meditation?
It’s far better to just walk, without purpose, and as much as possible, just to be a ‘witness,’ an observer to the experience of walking….
I know, in the beginning, it’s not easy to just be an observer because we all need some guidance when we are learning something new. And any form of meditation is no different. And this presents us with a challenge as it’s difficult not to get caught up in the rules, the ritual, and the dogma that others will try and pass on to us.
You will be told that you need to do this and then that…. and that you should listen to this teacher or that one because their way is the best!
And while at the beginning, it’s helpful to have some good advice, I’m happy to say that if you stick with meditation, you will find your own path… you will find the ways that work best for you.
Practical Tips For Beginners To Achieve a Meditative State During Walking Meditation
- Set an Intention: Before starting your walking meditation, take a moment to set the intention of being ‘at ease.’ Let go of any specific goals or expectations you may have and just allow your unnecessary thoughts to fall away. If you can approach your practice with a relaxed and open mindset, you will create the ideal conditions for a balanced and beneficial breathing rhythm.
- Focus on Sensations: Instead of trying to match your breath to your steps, direct your attention to the physical sensations of walking. Feel the contact of your feet with the ground, the shifting weight in your body, and the gentle movement of your muscles. If you can stay present with these sensations, they will anchor your awareness in the present moment.
- Be an Observer: During walking meditation, the aim is to be ‘the observer’ rather than to actively think about the experience. You do this by noticing the rhythm of your steps, the sensations in your body, and the flow of your breath. It’s important to avoid analyzing or judging these observations and instead, just simply observe them with a gentle curiosity.
- Experiment with Different Techniques: While being present with the sensations of walking is the core of this practice, you can also experiment with different techniques to enhance your self-awareness. For example, you can periodically shift your attention to your breath, noticing the inhalation and exhalation as you walk. Alternatively, you can focus on the general feeling of your body or your surroundings. With time, these various techniques will deepen your self-awareness and naturally guide you to let go of the need for focused attention.
- Release Judgment and Expectations: It’s common for the ego mind to resist the practice of meditation, trying to distract you with thoughts and worries. Acknowledge these distractions without judgment and gently bring your focus back to the present moment. Remember that the purpose of walking meditation is not achievement or perfection but rather cultivating equanimity and self-awareness.
More Techniques For Developing Greater Self-Awareness During Walking Meditation
Some of the techniques I have used in the past to help develop greater self-awareness and a deeper connection with the environment are:
- Body Scan: As you walk, you can bring your attention to different parts of your body, starting from the top of your head and moving down to your toes. Notice any sensations, tensions, or areas of relaxation in each part. This technique will help you cultivate a deep connection between your mind and body, fostering self-awareness of your physical sensations.
- Breath Awareness: You can of course anchor your attention on your breath. At certain intervals during your walking meditation, shift your conscious attention to your breath. You can observe the natural rhythm of your inhalations and exhalations, without trying to change them, by noticing the sensation of air entering and leaving your body. This technique helps to anchor your awareness in the present moment and helps promote a sense of calm and centeredness.
- Mindful Steps: Instead of simply walking, you could bring your conscious attention to each step you take. Notice how you are lifting your foot, the movement of your leg, and the contact of your foot with the ground. Try to stay fully present with each step, being aware of the subtle sensations and changes in weight distribution through your body. This technique will cultivate mindfulness and will enhance your awareness of the physical act of walking.
- Environment Awareness: You can expand your awareness beyond your body and pay attention to the environment around you by noticing the sounds, smells, and sights as you walk. Observing nature, the people and the cityscape around you can also be very soothing. If you can engage your senses fully, you will have a deeper and more meaningful experience of your surroundings. This technique also helps to expand your awareness and deepen your connection with the present moment.
By occasionally incorporating some of these techniques into your walking meditation practice, you will further develop self-awareness and enrich your overall experience.
Your Ego Is Not Going To Make It Easy For You!
Unfortunately, we are indoctrinated from birth to be ‘achievers.’ And since achievement is based on ‘doing,’ it requires our conscious awareness….. We are literally forced to use our logical minds from a young age to prove our worthiness in this world.
And because of this, our egos become dominant and we end up relying on them for most of our daily tasks. The ego thinks it is important and indispensable. And this is why our ego strongly resists being ignored when we are wanting to meditate.
So when you are beginning any meditation practice, your ego mind, out of habit, is going to try to distract you, a lot! It’s always going to suggest you do things differently, question why you are doing this now, and suggest that you should worry about what’s for dinner, did you feed the cat, or pay the power bill. It will throw everything and anything at you to try and make you pay attention to it.
However, if you just continue on your quest, and just return your awareness to ‘the ease of walking’, aware of any physical, mental, and emotional sensations without attachment, you will create a space between you and your busy conscious mind.
Final Thoughts On How Should You Breathe During Walking Meditation
Walking meditation can be a transformative practice when approached with a people-first mindset. By setting the intention of ease, focusing on sensations, and being an observer of your experience, you can cultivate mindfulness and find inner peace. Experiment with different techniques and allow your own path to unfold naturally. With time and practice, walking meditation will become a valuable tool for self-discovery and personal growth.
The combination of sometimes focusing on your breath, your feet touching the earth, your body sensations, or your general feeling, will, with time, heighten your self-awareness. And you will find that you will naturally let go of the need to focus on anything. Instead, you will just be aware that you are walking, without intention, without desire, without stress, and without thought…..
Your body is intelligent beyond belief, and if you allow it, it will intuitively and naturally find its ‘best rhythm.’ Your way will reveal itself to you…. And this is the feeling you are seeking, a coherent body and mind, working together naturally, without interference from your ego…. just keep at it, and remember to enjoy the journey.
Please share your experiences or any questions you have in the comments section below. We can all benefit by learning what has worked for others.