Whole Life Magazine

February/March 2014

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By Charlene Oldham A moving way of training the attention to stay present B abies attempting their fi rst steps sway and fl ex as the muscles in their legs and feet activate in new ways. They focus intently on lifting fi rst one leg, then the other, until both feet again touch the fl oor simultaneously and they can observe the world from a whole new perspective. Anyone who has ever seen a baby's fi rst steps knows what mindful walking looks like, but has probably forgotten how to practice it. "Rather than thinking 'Oh, I know what walking is, I've been walking for 30 years,' we need to assume a posture of curiosity," says Mark Coleman, meditation teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and founder of the Mindfulness Institute. Moving meditation is more than recapturing the initial wonder of walking, though. Like other forms of meditation, it can help reduce stress, improve memory and cognitive function, and increase the body's ability to deal with pain. It's also an excellent way to introduce meditative moments into our everyday lives or as an alternative to sitting meditation. "For some people, just sitting is too diffi cult, given the culture and the speediness we are accustomed to," says Dr. Gwin Stewart, a psychologist and substance abuse counselor who teaches meditation at the St. Louis Wellness Center. "So [walking meditation] can be a nice bridge for folks and help them realize, 'I really can manage my own mind. It's not going to be off to the races thinking about the grocery list or problems of the past." "We miss the miracle of the present moment by being lost in thought," says Coleman, "so mindful walking is just a way of training the attention to really stay focused in the present." For meditators who already sit, walking offers an excellent way to expand that practice. Experts say we don't need to be perched on a buckwheat-stuffed zafu in full lotus to meditate effectively. Traditional Buddhist teachings identify four meditation postures: sitting, standing, walking and lying down. No matter what the posture, meditation is all about focusing exclusively on what is happening in the present moment, and anyone who walks can learn to do that while on the move. But it's not always as simple as just putting one foot in front of the other, notes Richard Sievers, a teacher at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City. External distractions can be a challenge, particularly if practitioners are walking outdoors or on a route that may have obstacles. Internally our muscles are actively engaged, continually stretching and relaxing as we move our legs and feet, so Sievers encourages students to simply focus on what it feels like to stand, before extending the practice of mindfulness into movement. Beginners may also want to start on a short, familiar path. The limited distance allows for refocusing on the sensations of each step with every turnaround. Some may even fi nd it helpful to "name" their movements as they walk. While it may be ideal to practice walking meditation on a tranquil path with few distractions, you can also train yourself to be conscious of your breath and movement en route to and from the bus stop or down a hallway. But this doesn't mean you won't feel irritated at the coworker who took your parking space. "It doesn't matter whether you're frustrated or angry; the point is to be aware," Coleman says. "And mindful walking doesn't necessarily mean walking in a different way than we might ordinarily; it's simply being present to the fact of walking." yoga & spirit Learning to Walk • Find a pathway about 30 to 40 feet long and walk back and forth. • When you come to the end of the path, come to a full stop, turn around, stop again, then start again. • Keep your eyes cast down not focusing on anything in particular. • Focus your attention on your body and feel the sensations of each step. Feel your legs and feet tense as you lift the leg, the movement of your leg as it swings through the air, the contact of your foot with the ground. • You can use a quiet mental label for your steps as you walk, such as "stepping, stopping, left, right." –Adapted from a talk by Gil Fronsdal, Insight Meditation Center MINDFUL WALKING february/march 2014 15 WLT-FEB-MAR-1-30.indd 15 1/30/14 1:10 AM

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