By Marilynn Preston
Have you ever tried walking meditation? It’s a gentle and giant step into the world of Zen. And in case you’ve just returned from planet Elsewhere, Zen is trending big here on Earth. There are Zen retreats, Zen smoothies, Zen comics, Zen methods of diapering and accounting and an actual book called “Zen and the Art of Casino Gaming.”
“Zazen” is the Japanese word for seated meditation, and kinhin is walking meditation. Both are proven methods for quieting the mind. Kinhin is a simple practice that gives you all the benefits of seated meditation – increased energy, equanimity, awareness – with zero risk of falling asleep.
“Meditation is simple but not easy,” says Henry Shukman, head teacher at the Mountain Cloud Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who taught walking meditation to me and a tentful of others at the Esalen Institute some time ago.
“Walking meditation is a chance to tune into our own experience,” Henry explained, “to be in this place, to touch this Earth, to be right here, right now.”
It’s from that place of total presence that a sense of well-being flows. Neuroscientists have proven this with innovative brain imaging studies. When you stop dwelling on the past and future and focus on living in the present moment, stress eases, your fears and anxieties dissolve, and kindness and compassion rise to the surface.
All that and physical activity, too, and you don’t have to be Buddhist to benefit. Here’s a summary of Henry’s teachings about walking meditation:
STEP 1. WALK INTO NATURE
Sometimes, walking meditation is done inside a Zen temple – as a break from long periods of sitting meditation – but doing it outside in nature offers special rewards. Wear comfortable shoes and pick an outdoor path that is safe and unencumbered, the quieter the better.
STEP 2: ARRANGE YOUR HANDS
There is a Zen way of doing just about everything – from washing the dishes to bathing your dog – so it’s no surprise that walking meditation in Henry’s Sanbo Zen lineage has rules about how to hold your hands.
“You put your right hand around your right thumb and use the left hand to gently press your right hand against your solar plexus,” Henry demonstrated. “That’s the Zen way.”
Is it the only way? Of course not. It’s so totally not Zen to dictate to people what they can and cannot do.
Your solar plexus, in case you’re wondering, is right in the middle of your upper torso, just below the diaphragm. It’s the energetic center – or chakra – of strength, confidence and joy.
STEP 3: MIND YOUR POSTURE
Walk mindfully, in silence, with an upright spine and a slight chin tuck. Keep your eyes open and lowered, but not in a way that makes your walking unsafe. Walk in a way that feels relaxed and aware, opening up the deepest channels of the body, allowing for a flow of energy up and down the spine, drawing up from the earth, drawing down from the sky.
I know it sounds a little woo-woo, but hey, haven’t lots of things that used to seem woo-woo turned out to be true-true?
STEP 4: DON’T FOCUS ON YOUR BREATH
Really? Meditators are always being told to focus on the breath as a way to connect mind and body and sink into the bliss of boundlessness. For our first walking meditation, Henry took us in a different direction.
“Let your mind rest in the soles of your feet,” he instructed. Don’t overthink it. Just let go and let it happen, walking at a comfortable pace, focusing your mind’s eye on the bottom of your feet.
When you lose focus and your mind begins to wander to the future or the past – just as it does in sitting meditation – you simply acknowledge the lapse, return your awareness to the soles of your feet and keep it there until your final step.
STEP 5: NOTHING TO GAIN
At the end of our refreshing and revelatory 20-minute walking meditation, Henry explained a little more about its power.
“It’s about being as we are, where we are … the experience of the now. Our minds grasp for meaning, grasp for understanding …
“There is nothing to understand,” said Henry. “There is just now.”
– Marilynn Preston is the author of “Energy Express,” America’s longest-running healthy lifestyle column. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.