As an introvert, I’ve been spared the particular COVID – related hardship that comes from quarantine. Still, certain necessary sacrifices have recently proven to be bittersweet.
For example, I miss teaching in-person yoga classes, but with infections rising, Zoom classes will have to do. The Telluride Bluegrass Festival was canceled. This was the first festival I’ve missed since 1983. I will miss my annual 18-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.
Still, in some ways, this new normal has been inspiring. COVID-related restrictions require that we step out of our old habits in order to protect ourselves and our communities. It seems odd, but even though large public gatherings are off for now, I see my neighbors more often than I have in years. That’s because people are walking a whole lot more.
Walking is often a time when we make plans, work out problems and just generally cogitate on things. So during times of stress and worry, we often carry our worries with us into activities, such as walking, that we’re hoping will ease our stress. But we don’t have to do that.
So what’s the solution? Walking meditation.
Insight meditation (mindfulness) practice gives equal weight to sitting and walking meditation. On mindfulness retreats, we alternate sitting with walking meditation throughout the day. Not only is the practice calming and grounding, but it also allows us to appreciate the simple pleasures of walking in a new way.
How to practice walking meditation
Walking meditation is traditionally practiced on a short path, walking back and forth. But for the purpose of enriching your outdoor walks, the following instructions will help you develop awareness of walking in your neighborhood or on the trail.
- Begin by standing with your feet hips-width apart. Close your eyes and feel your feet on the ground. Note how your weight is distributed from one foot to the other, from your heels to the balls of the feet, and from the insides to the outsides. You don’t need to change anything. Simply feel into your feet.
- Now shift your weight slowly and gently onto your right foot, staying present with the entire process. Then shift your weight slowly and gently to your left foot, again connecting with the process. Do this a few times to help you connect with awareness of your feet and legs.
- Begin to walk now. You might want to walk a bit more slowly than your normal pace, just to help you tune into the sensations in your feet and legs as you move.
- When you walk outside, it can be challenging to keep your awareness solely in your feet (no pun intended). There’s so much to see and feel. Feel free to take in sights and sounds as well. Relax your eyes and ears and simply let visual and audio sensations come to you as you walk. Feel the sun or the breeze on your skin. You can be aware of all these things while still sensing into the feet and legs.
You can call on mindful walking whether you’re hiking or simply walking from your home to your car. Use your walking time to let go of worry and stress and to simply enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations coming from the world around you. Let walking renew and restore you—physically, mentally and emotionally.
Charlotte Bell has been practicing yoga since 1982. She is the author of several yoga-related books including, most recently, Hip Healthy Asana, and founder of Mindful Yoga Collective. CharlotteBellYoga.com/