Movement and Mediation


Just a closer walk with Thee, grant it Lord it is my plea.

From a gospel song.


Mindful walking is frequently used as a main exercise in vipassana meditation. In Buddhist monasteries or meditation centers, especially in Southeast Asia, meditation walks or mediation terraces are often to be found, specifically laid out for the purpose of walking meditation. These walks are strait, level and even so that the meditator is not distracted by changes of direction or irregularities of the surface as he walks back and forth, concentrating on the walking movement. The meditation walk should not be too short (not less than some twenty paces as a minimum), as turning round too frequently can be distracting; but it should not be too long because for the beginner, it is difficult to maintain mindfulness during too long a stretch. The normal length is some thirty to forty paces, although some walks may exceptionally go up to as much as sixty.

There are different schools of thought as regards the manner of walking. Some masters teach a very slow walk, breaking up each step into as many as six stages (lifting the foot - moving it forward - farther forward - farther forward - lowering it touching the ground - taking the weight); other use three subdivisions (lifting - forward - lowering and putting down), the rhythm being correspondingly less slow; others still use only two subdivisions lifting and forward - lowering and putting down). Finally, there are masters who recommend moving at a speed which although measured, approximates that of a normal, unhurried walk, pointing out that in this way it is easier to learn to apply mindfulness while walking in everyday life, i.e. outside formal meditation periods. These same masters also allow rather more latitude as regards the phases of movement that should be particularly noticed, leaving it to the student himself to discover which are the aspects to which his attention turns more naturally.

Some notice the contact of the feet on the earth, others the movements of the legs, and so on. At first, just be generally mindful of the whole walking process, later the mind will single out something interesting which should be investigated.

Whatever the details of the method used, the basic procedure consists always in walking back and forth along the whole length of the meditation walk, stopping for a moment at each end to check the mind's concentration before turning round. The hands are normally clasped in the front of the body, and the eyes cast down, looking at the ground not more than four or five feet ahead. The purpose of the exercise is always the same: mindful observation of bodily processes and phenomena, so as to perceive their continual fluctuations with increasing clarity and penetration.

Amadeo Sole-Leris - Tranquillity and Insight



Walking meditation can be very enjoyable. We walk slowly, alone or with friends, if possible in some beautiful place. Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking. Walking not in order to arrive, just for walking. The purpose is to be in the present movement and enjoy each step you make. Therefore you have to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment. You can take the hand of a child as you do it. You walk, you make steps as if you are the happiest person on Earth.

We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. When we walk like that, we print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on Earth. Everyone of us can do that provided that we want it very much. Any child can do that. If we can take one step like that, we can take two, three, four, and five. When we are able to take one step peacefully, and happily, we are for the cause of peace and happiness for the whole of humankind. Walking meditation is a wonderful practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh - Being Peace



Anything we do with our bodies is a form of prayer when our central intent is opening to God's presence through it. Much attention is paid to the body in contemporary Western culture, but the intent rarely is prayer. . . .

We can have this same intent in our physical movement. St. Paul's words can be taken literally when he says, " If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25)! Walking and other forms of movement have a way of being "secularized": they are thing we do between ways of attending God and life in God.

How can our movement help us to pay attention to the grace at hand? Just as with breathing, the slowness of movement is fundamental. This doesn't mean that grace cannot be noticed when we move fast, anymore than it cannot be noticed when we breathe rapidly! But in moving slowly we are more likely not to miss, and hopefully will enhance, our sensing God's presence. ..

More precisely, we need to move evenly, gracefully, aware that every movement of leg, arm, and head is centered in God, not outside. This may seem self-conscious at first, but its intent is just the opposite: to join our consciousness with the Consciousness that draws us forward, bleeding our movement in this larger Movement. In this way we realize the true dignity, the divine dignity, of our movement. Any other intent of movement shrinks us to a much smaller, isolated, and finally tragic reality, outside the One in whom we are called to "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).

We can bring such graced movement to all kinds of activities besides retreats, if not always as unambiguously as there. It can be encouraged in many little ways: giving ourselves a few extra minutes to drive, ride, or walk somewhere; turning and moving our bodies smoothly instead of jerkily in response to telephones, appointments, physical labor, etc. (a jerked around body encourages a jerky, fragmented mind) playing a sport or using an artistic medium in a way that our movement retains a certain unforced ease, as in jogging and painting. In the process of such movement we will likely be more capable of noticing and carrying out what is really called for at a given time, for our neighbor and ourselves.

Tilden Edwards - Living in the Presence