Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Walking Meditation: Ten Small Steps to a New Beginning

While I’m an enthusiastic walker, I have rarely had the opportunity to practice a walking meditation or taken the initiative to do it on my own. In traditional Buddhist teachings, walking is identified as one of four meditation postures, along with sitting, standing, and lying down.

But a few months ago, a walking meditation was included as part of a yoga class I attended. While it’s often recommended to practice walking meditation outdoors, in this case, it was a cold, dark winter evening and so we walked inside, together, in barefoot silence.

The instruction was to bring complete attention to the act of slow, deliberate walking, noticing the feet as they touched the floor, heel to toe, and everything in between. At this pace and with this intention, gaze just in front of my feet, these small steps led to an unbidden insight: even moving one foot in front of the other requires a small leap of faith—and there is always a new place to land. 

The Place of Beginning

While it may not be a conscious thought, each step carries a momentum and commitment to move forward—to take the next step. When moving slowly, with laser-like focus, that space between the time the one foot leaves the ground and the other touches down suddenly becomes one that reveals itself to be an ever new beginning.

Like all beginnings, it opens to the unknown. The first sutra (or thread) in the YogaSutras of Pantanjali offers some insight into this place of beginnings. It reads:

अथ योगानुशासनम् ॥१॥
atha yoga-anuśāsanam ||1||

While it’s translated in many ways, it might simply be read, “Now, the teachings/practice of yoga begins/is being made.” Implied in this is a readiness or preparation, and a commitment to accept going forward, whatever that might mean. It also brings full attention to the significance of “now,” of beginning, and the power and momentum of the present moment.

There is great force in committing to simply start, to taking the next step. In Nicolai Bachman’s discussion of this first sutra he says, “Whenever we make an important decision, often the universe will energetically support us.” 

A 10-Step Walking Meditation to Bring You to Now

If you’re ready to open to a new beginning, try the following. This 10-step walking meditation will help wake you up to your own mindful “now.”

1.  Find a welcoming setting. Choose a spot, whether inside or out, that offers a peaceful, unhurried environment free from distractions. It’s also ideal to be barefooted. A beach, park, or grassy area is nice, and walking outside has many healing benefits. But a small, quiet indoor space where you can simply walk a few steps one way or the other also works. You don’t have to go far.
2.  Stay in step with your breath. Move with the breath, perhaps lifting the foot off on the inhale and stepping down on an exhale.
3.  Open your heart. Lengthen the spine and open the heart center, allowing for a broadening across the collarbone and relaxed shoulders. Feel the body’s energy from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
4.  Mind your gaze. Consider keeping your focus on the ground, perhaps just a few feet in front of you.
5.  Keep the pace slow. Be deliberate. Move with intention and stay in the moment.
6.  Inhabit each step. Remain conscious of the bottoms of the feet as they touch the earth, as well as the space between steps.
7.  Walk like you mean it. Spread the toes and fix the bottoms of the feet to the earth—plant them, grow something.
8.  Release any thought of getting somewhere. Enjoy the power and pleasure of being present. As the one monk says to the other in the New Yorker cartoon, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”
9.  Enjoy the support of the earth. Wake up to the feeling of the feet touching the ground, knowing that the earth is always there to support and provide a foundation.
10. Take a leap. Let this simple practice supply the experience and encouragement to take some bigger step in your life.

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