Locations:
Search IconSearch

Put Intention Behind Your Walking Meditation

While walking, be mindful of your body, your mind, your place in the world and all five of your senses as you pave a path forward, one step at a time

Older person smiling, taking in the outdoors

When was the last time you went on a walk? While you were walking, were you caught up in a conversation with someone, either on the phone or in person? Were your thoughts racing about all the other things you left unfinished at home? Or were you alone, content and mindful in the moment?

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

In this day and age, we’re all very busy and forever tuned in to the rest of the world and all its happenings. So, it can be a little hard to get a quiet moment to ourselves unless we set out to make the time and space for it.

Practicing mindfulness in general can boost your mental and physical health in a variety of ways. But walking meditation specifically allows you to be mindful in the moment while also getting the benefits of physical movement without the risk of over-exertion.

Behavioral health therapist Benjamin Perko, LPCC, discusses how walking meditation shares similarities and differences with other meditative practices. He also takes us through the steps of a mindful walking meditation practice you can do at home, at the office or anywhere in between.

What is walking meditation?

Walking meditation is a mindful practice where you bring awareness to the active intentional movement of walking.

Culturally, this practice is rooted in the traditions of Buddhism, Taoism and yoga, and has been used for centuries in coordination with other mindful practices to boost awareness and improve one’s enlightenment.

“When we think of the word ‘meditation,’ we think of sitting, rest, relaxation and closing our eyes or trying to find a place of focus and relaxation and paying attention to the body in a different way,” explains Perko. “Walking meditation, however, is very active and you can practice walking meditation anywhere.”

The active component of walking meditation may be compelling, especially for beginners who are interested in meditating for the first time.

“People gravitate at times to the more active approach to meditation because sometimes, meditation can be very intimidating when we’re left with our thoughts and we’re not always able to control what thoughts come up,” recognizes Perko. “Walking builds a little bit of a bridge of comfort for individuals who might be worried about that vulnerability.”

People who practice walking meditation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition will typically walk a straight path of up to 40 feet before turning around and paving the same path over again, repeating this process for several minutes or hours at a time. During this process, they focus on the awareness of their movement and how they’re feeling in different parts of their body with each step.

Another variation is the Japanese walking meditation of kinhin, which is much slower and has participants walking clockwise in a circular fashion in one room holding a specific posture for 20 minutes or more during each session. These bouts of walking meditation typically take place between periods of sitting meditation.

These are just a couple of the most common variations of walking meditation. The key to any walking meditation, regardless of its nature, is to make sure you’re focusing on your self-awareness and that you’re carving out a space for your personal health and well-being.

“When we talk about meditation, yoga and mindfulness, all of this falls within the purview that you have to be willing to sit with yourself and really feel and observe what is going on instead of having these other distractions and other things that aren’t allowing us to be present all day long,” notes Perko.

Benefits of walking meditation

On their own, walking and meditation have their own benefits for your mental and physical health.

Walking has been shown to:

Advertisement

Meditation can also reduce stress and anxiety, but it has other benefits, too, like:

When these two activities are combined into a single practice or done together in alternating sessions, studies have shown that participants experience mental and physical benefits.

A randomized controlled trial from 2018 showed a significant decrease in anxiety among young adults who participated in meditation by itself, or when they meditated before or after walking. Another randomized controlled study from 2019 showed significant changes in anxiety, depression, shortness of breath and quality of life when patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease participated in breathing-based walking and meditation over two months.

“When we engage in these types of interventions, I’m always quick to tell people that these aren’t a cure-all. But these are supportive ways to physically adjust and shift your body, and they’re practices you can do alongside other activities to improve your overall health and wellness,” clarifies Perko.

How to do a walking meditation

Although there are many types of walking meditations, beginners may want to start with a mindfulness meditation so they can familiarize themselves with the practice, discover how it feels and learn how to engage their five senses as they’re meditating.

Advertisement

You can do this meditation at home, out in nature or even in a public setting. Just know that your experience may vary widely depending on your surroundings.

“At home, a walking meditation will allow you to focus a lot more on the physical sensations of walking, like your foot touching down on the carpet or hardwood floor, your leg and foot lifting up, bending and then extending to touch back down on the ground in front of you,” explains Perko.

“In a busier, city-like environment or in a public setting, it will be a more sensory and environmental experience where you’re using all five of your senses as you’re walking to hear the cars drive by and smell whatever scents are in the air around you.”

If you’re unable to walk or have limited mobility, Perko suggests using the same techniques (below) while doing chair yoga.

“Chair yoga is movement-based, much like walking meditation,” he says. “A lot of it incorporates the use of your upper body, and you’re engaging in that physiological movement that helps keep you active while you’re being mindful in the present moment.”

Ready to clear your mind? Follow these steps for a mindfulness walking meditation:

  1. Take a minute or two to intentionally observe your physical breath. You can do this standing or in a seated position. “During this, you’re simply an observer. You’re not judging. You’re not questioning whether you’re breathing well enough or deep enough. You’re just a casual observer who’s practicing from a place of non-judgment,” says Perko. “However you feel in this moment is valid. You are OK. And the psychology of this is really getting ourselves to accept the fact that even if we’re not feeling our best, that’s OK, too.”
  2. When you’re ready to walk, pay close attention to the actual experience of walking. You can take slow, small steps at first to help focus in on your movement. Feel your feet touching the ground, your muscles flexing and relaxing, and how it feels to move. “You want to focus on how your feet are firmly on the ground, how you’re lifting your right or left foot, how your leg is bent, how you’re placing your leg down so that your other leg can come up and you’re recognizing the sensory components of each step,” advises Perko.
  3. Be aware of your location and space by engaging your five senses. “Take in the sounds you hear, feel the temperature of the air, acknowledge the smells of the air around you and engage all of your senses,” he continues.
  4. Focus your awareness through every part of your body as you move forward. You can do this with a quick body scan. “Be aware of the beginning, middle and end of your steps,” says Perko. Notice the sensations moving from your feet up through your legs as your muscles contract and relax, and then focus on how different parts of your body feel with each and every movement.
  5. Take notice of your state of mind. The keyword here is “notice” — you’re not judging, you’re not trying to change anything, you’re just acknowledging where your mind is and what thoughts come up as you walk. “Is your body calm or busy? Are your thoughts calm or busy? Where is your mind?” asks Perko. “If you get distracted, it’s OK to pivot. More than likely, when we’re stressed and overwhelmed, there are going to be times when we get distracted. We have to practice a space of acceptance, and understand that this is just what your mind and your thoughts are doing right now.”
  6. Refocus your attention to the walk. “We have to acknowledge that distraction is a symptom of life,” he continues. “It’s a symptom of what we’re going through and it’s part of what makes us human.” When distractions do come up, or you find yourself getting frustrated or spinning your wheels, refocus your intentions on the walk itself. “You have to make the intentional effort to refocus your energy on the process of walking and around the process of what your body is doing,” Perko advises. “You might have to do this five or six times in a five to 10-minute span of time, and that is OK. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
  7. Find your rhythm. When you’re overwhelmed by distraction or you’re finding yourself consumed by one thought or another, you can break that pattern by narrating out loud what you’re doing. Sometimes, counting your steps helps. Others might prefer verbally detailing each individual move they feel with each step. “You’re finding your flow and you’re relying on that rhythm of your voice to guide you into your steps,” says Perko. “Like a drumbeat, rhythmic movement can physiologically get us back to a baseline where we’re able to focus on the task at hand and be more mindful of what’s happening in the moment.”
  8. Keep a comfortable pace. Whether you choose to walk in circles, in a straight line or down any path in your home, a park or a bustling public setting, how you start and stop is up to you as long as you’re sticking to a comfortable pace that doesn’t overwhelm you. “Some people take one step at a time and stop before they take their next step and that really helps people focus on each step and what that feels like,” says Perko. “But when you get to a place where you feel more comfortable, creating a rhythm out of that is helpful in keeping your pace and your mind at ease.”

Advertisement

“This is just a template for a mindfulness walking meditation,” he adds, “but there are several ways to do this. Part of the experience is finding out what works best for you and then catering those experiences to your individual needs and goals.”

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Health Library
Meditation

Related Articles

Couple cuddled on couch reading, with one of them thinking about other people
July 19, 2024/Sex & Relationships
Jealous of Your Partner’s Past? Here’s Why Retroactive Jealousy Stings

Retroactive jealousy is often rooted in anxiety and insecurity — but there are steps you can take to help tame this green-eyed monster

People sitting in circle at group therapy
July 18, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Chronic Hives and Mental Health: Self-Care Tips

Combat stress and anxiety — common chronic hives triggers — by focusing on sleep, staying active and leaning on others for support

Couple in bed, one asleep, the other typing on their cell phone
July 18, 2024/Sex & Relationships
How and When Emotional Cheating Crosses a Line

Fostering romantic and/or sexual feelings for other people outside of your relationship can lead to long-term consequences

Reiki being performed by practitioner, with hands hovering person's abdomen
July 16, 2024/Wellness
What Is Reiki? And Does It Actually Work?

Reiki is an energy-healing practice that many people describe as deeply calming and therapeutic — but it shouldn’t be used in place of conventional treatments

Female painting a still life of a vase and fruits on canvas and easel
Self-Care Is Important When You’re Living With HER2-Negative Metastatic Breast Cancer

Taking care of yourself extends beyond symptom management and includes things like passion projects and meaningful moments

Person crying with heart-shaped hole in their chest
July 9, 2024/Mental Health
How To Overcome an Existential Crisis

Connecting with loved ones, keeping a gratitude journal and reframing the situation may help the dread dissipate

Group of women sitting in chairs in circle, some holding brochures, at cancer support group
HER2-Low Metastatic Breast Cancer: Finding Community

Support groups, financial assistance and survivorship programs are all readily available

Person on walking pad in living room, with TV on
July 3, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
Here’s How To Make the Most Out of the ‘Cozy Cardio’ Trend

It’s not the only exercise you should do, but this gentle way to get active can help you get out of a workout slump

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad