Body Scan, Walking Meditation

Walking Meditation

MEDITATION THAT MAKES MINDFULNESS PORTABLE

When I first started meditating ago I came to it with a very narrow impression of what it would look like. That is, sitting cross-legged on the floor with my eyes closed. And whilst I soon learned there were also practices like walking meditation, eating meditation and drinking tea meditation, unfortunately, for my practice at home, I’m still very much a one-trick pony!

Of course on retreats, there are sessions of walking, eating and drinking meditation to break up the long sessions of sitting, but I think I’ve associated those as just that – meditations that break up the “real” practice of sitting.

So, what’s the point of walking meditation?

Walking meditation takes the mindfulness we cultivate on the cushion and makes it portable. It gets us used to focusing on movement as the object of meditation, as well as dealing with the added distraction of sight (because in walking meditation we keep our eyes open!)

Walking meditation helps build appreciation for our bodies and our senses. It helps grow the connection that everything we do is an opportunity to be present and experience it for its own sake – not merely as a means to an end.

What does it mean, experience things for their own sake?

What I mean – and we’ll take walking as the example – is that usually when we walk, we are doing it to get from A to B. The act of walking is usually something we do to be somewhere else. And that’s fine. We do need to be places. But at the same time, the walk can also be the destination.

After reading Barry Magid’s book Ending the Pursuit of Happiness, I’ve been using a phrase in meditation that’s helped make sense of this idea.

No gain, just sitting.

And we can modify this for whatever we’re doing.

  • No gain, just walking
  • No gain, just eating
  • No gain, just mowing the lawn
  • No gain, just filing

This means that the activity we’re engaged in isn’t just a vehicle to achieve something else, i.e. the means to an end. And when we don’t have to get anything from or out of these simple activities, it makes the activity itself so much more enjoyable.

How is walking meditation done?

If you’ve never tried walking meditation; it’s pretty easy.

  1. Choose a quiet path of around 10-20 steps where you won’t bump into anything (or anyone!) It could be your backyard, bedroom, hallway or office.
  2. You can dangle your arms down straight, or clasp them in front, or behind you.
  3. Lower your gaze a short distance in front of you.
  4. Walking deliberately slower than you normally would, keep your attention on your feet.
  5. Try to notice all the stages and sensations of walking. Lifting the heel, the ball, the toes, moving the whole foot forward, setting down the heel, the ball, the toes… repeat with the other foot!
  6. When you’ve reached the end of your designated path, turn around and start again.
  7. And just like in seated meditation, whenever you get lost in thoughts, stop, reset and return your attention to the object of meditation – your moving feet.

Tips

  • Like a one-year-old taking their first steps, walking meditation can be wobbly at first! Choose a wider stance to better keep your balance.
  • Try to also maintain awareness of your breathing – syncing the steps to the breath is helpful for some.
  • Just like the support method breath counting, you can count each step to help you stay focused and coordinated.
  • A suggested meditation session might include a 10-minute seated meditation, a 15-minute walking meditation and back on the cushion to finish off with another 10 minutes of seated meditation.

Here’s a short seated meditation to get you in the mood for a walk. See how you go!

Welcome. This is a short, seated meditation you can do to prepare yourself for a walking meditation.

Let’s first begin with some small adjustments to our bodies.

Making sure we’re sitting up as straight as we can. Not too rigid, but our backs free of the chair if we’re sitting in a chair. Supporting our own posture.

Checking that we’re not holding onto any tension in our tummies. Taking a deep breath in and allowing our tummy to relax as we exhale.

Following our breathing in and out, and on the exhale, also allowing the shoulders to drop and the arms to relax.

FOOT SCAN

And ahead of our walking meditation, let’s now spend some time down with our feet. Wonderful feet that bear the weight of our bodies and keep us active and mobile.

We’ll start with the left foot and give it some love and attention.

Beginning with left heel. Noticing any sensations. Drawing an imaginary circle around the heel if that helps maintain a connection.

Moving up to the left arch. Keeping that imaginary circle going as your attention stays here with the left arch.

Now to the ball of the left foot. Sending this particular part of the foot care and kindness for all the work that it does.

And working our way through the left toes. Big toe. Detecting any pulsing or throbbing here. Second toe. Again drawing that circle if it’s hard to sense any of the toes. Third toe. Fourth toe. And pinkie. And taking a deep breath all the way in till it envelopes the entire left foot.

And moving across now to the right foot.

Tending to our right heel. Imagining what it’s like to be the right heel.

Following along up the arch. Drawing that circle around the arch. Giving this part a mental massage if it needs it.

And then to the ball of the right foot. Noting any throbbing or tingling in this area. Keeping our attention just with the ball.

And working up to the right toes. Starting with the pinkie toe. Sensing the presence of the pinkie toe, noting any sensations we can detect in the pinkie.

And drawing our circles around the remaining toes. Fourth toe. Third toe. Second toe. And finally big toe. Sending kindness to all the right toes and breathing in all the way down to encompass the right foot.

You’re now ready for walking meditation.

Just sit for a few moments in silence, connecting with your breath, and when you’re ready you can get up and start your walk.

Enjoy.

Body Scan

Tension and Relief

A MEDITATION ON EVENING OUT LIFE’S TURBULENT FLIGHT PATH
(AND ON WATCHING GAME OF THRONES LIKE A BUDDHIST)

Spoiler alert! This post contains references to Game of Thrones. (But I trust that anyone who cares has already seen the ending.)

As I sat down to watch the final chapter of one of the most downloaded shows ever, I set myself a little task — watch this last episode through the eyes of a Buddha. (I’m not an actual Buddhist but I was definitely up to the challenge.)

I’d written this meditation a few episodes earlier, having already noticed (like a Buddha would) how much tension was in my body at the end of a gruelling one-hour episode of battles, blood and betrayal. And of course the flood of relief wherever a glimpse of hope and heroism.

And what I realised was my life was not unlike Game of Thrones! (OK, well, there’s no dragons or white walkers – although we can certainly go about our days with zombie-mind.) But that we can experience tension and relief all day long as we butt up against challenges (however trivial) and finally solve them (or they solve themselves.)

So with my challenge set I pressed play, and through Buddha-eyes, here’s what I did:

  1. Released all expectations of what this final episode was going to be. The fact that it was the last episode ever was the first idea to let go. There is so much expectation, attachment and wanting built into that. I was just going to sit and let each scene unfold and try not to project what was going to (or should) happen.
  2. Accepted that I would likely experience tension. Likely experience relief. Likely experience a whole host of other emotions (anger, disappointment, joy, excitement, sadness.) And just let them come up and subside naturally on their own. Have awareness of all these feelings and where they present themselves in my body at the same time as watching the show.
  3. Put myself in the writers’ shoes. Had some empathy for the mammoth task of the creatives to write an ending that would please the fans, honour the characters and tie things off well. Empathy and understanding for how many millions of fans would be watching and judging and afterwards discussing. No easy feat! And not everyone would be pleased.
  4. Took a few minutes at the closing credits. Sat with the swirl of thoughts and feelings about what had just transpired. Sadness that there would be no more. Happy that the fate of each character had been told. And focused on all the positive awesome stories and scenes that were delivered into an hour and a half of viewing.
    (Spoiler! Eg. That AMAZING scene watching Drogon the dragon burn down the Iron Throne, scoop up Dany’s dead body and fly off into the ashen horizon. That Cersei Lannister finally met her death, but in the arms of her true love – but also by being crushed and suffocated by an avalanche of Red Keep rubble. That Jon Snow did what Jon Snow does – the right thing – which wiped the world of another imminent Targaryn tyrant. And that through his sentence to Castle Black that he finally found freedom in being an outsider.)

I could go on. But having said all of this, even if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, here’s a meditation to practice sitting with tension, relief and other sensations in the body and recognising that they do in fact have a lifespan and that they are just nomadic visitors passing on through.

At times, all life feels like is a ping pong match between two emotional states: tension and relief.

We get into an argument with someone; there’s tension. Then we make up and feel relief.

We’re waiting for an important phone call. Tension. When we finally receive it – relief.

Of course, this tension-relief paradigm isn’t just about things that we haven’t chosen. When we sit down to watch our favourite TV program there may have been so many tense and relieving rallies written into an hour (Game of Thrones, anyone?), that by the closing credits we need a few moments to collect ourselves.

There are countless other examples we could encounter on a daily basis so it’s no wonder that life can feel overwhelming and exhausting.

But the more we can live mindfully – when we’re more consistently attuned to what our bodies telling us — we can somewhat transcend this yo-yo state and more quickly return to enjoying the game — whatever the score.

MEDITATION

Let’s see if we can explore this further through meditation.

Get yourself into a loose, but alert position. Stretch out your spine. Cup your hands together like a pair of shells, or place them however you find restful. Connect with your breath at the tip of your nose and take a deep inhalation to fill up the lungs. Hold it for a moment and gently let go with a long breath out.

And dropping into your body now.

Placing your awareness on the body part that feels most tense in this very moment. Neck. Back. Or temples. The part that is clenched, or tight, or in pain. Keeping your focus here, breathing in to this area.

Just gently being with this tension, investigating the sensations. Becoming familiar with how tension presents itself in your body.

Now choose a body part where you feel no tension at all. Places like fingers. Toes. And ears. Rest in this area. Are there any sensations? How do you describe them?

Breathing in to this body part; connecting breath to body. Connecting this moment to body.

And if there’s a body part that’s experiencing pleasant sensations, notice that as well. What are the characteristics of these pleasurable feelings? Where are they located?

Continue breathing in to whichever body part feels most dominant right now.

Let’s now take an expanded perspective of your entire body. Stepping back to sense the completeness of all body parts together as one.

This is your body.

Made up of parts that experience tension. Parts that experience relief and pleasant sensations. Parts that experience neutrality.

And at any given moment the mix of sensations is changing. Just like in life. We experience stresses and calm. Anger and laughter. Fear and confidence. And of course, emptiness. Or nothing at all.

This is normal; an indiscriminate part of being human. And only when we are aware and ultimately accept this reality can we enjoy the game of life more as a spectator and less as the ball.

So, keep going with this meditation if it feels good for you, and return to the breath and the body whenever thoughts have taken over.

Enjoy.

Body Scan

Relax, Refuel

A MEDITATION TO RELAX THE BODY AND CLEAR THE MIND

Often when I finally sit down to meditate at the end of a long day, all my body wants to do is collapse on the bed; and my mind is so scattered from lugging around a day’s worth of thoughts, that it doesn’t know what to do. And while it’s so tempting to skip meditation and just curl up and go off to sleep, after 6 years’ practice, I’ve come to understand that’s not what’s best for me!

What’s best, is that I let my weary body rest but that also, I allow this swampish mind to clear before heading into slumber. And in order to do that, it’s a final act of resolve to stay upright and alert and breathe with patience until body is calm and mind has clarity.

And with this meditation, you too, can relax, and refuel. xx

One of the fundamental skills of mindfulness meditation is the ability to be relaxed yet alert at the same time. Which seems like such a contradiction, doesn’t it? How can you be mellow and vigilant all at once?

But in the style of meditation we practice, these twin qualities work their best when together. Because relaxation without alertness will likely cause sleep, and alertness without a certain level of relaxation is bound to cause agitation.

And it’s the development of these two skills that will lead to ever-increasing states of mindfulness… that will help us to experience the present moment as it unfolds moment by moment.

So that’s what this meditation is all about. To relax and recharge mind and body and bring that connection into equilibrium.

So, let’s give it a try shall we?

MEDITATION

We’ll start things off with a few deep breaths, getting into our meditation position with a straight back and relaxed tummy.

And sitting here, in the chair or on the cushion, we’ll bring our entire body into our field of awareness. Imagining or sensing the wholeness of our body, the sum of many different parts, all together as one. Noticing how this body feels now that it’s sitting here very still in the quiet.

And checking in with our state of mind, for it too, now has permission to stop. Noticing the quality of our thoughts – few, many, positive, negative. And recognising if there’s a sameness between the state of our mind and the state of our body.

And what we’re going to do now is visit all the different parts of our body.

Honing in, piece by piece, beginning with the hands. These hands that can hold and touch and keep us self-sufficient. Allowing them to relax, letting them rest. And as you connect with your breath, refuelling your alertness.

And to the arms. These arms that can hug and keep us balanced and stable. Allowing them to flop, to simply be. Breathing restfulness through the arms and at the same time, rejuvenating our awareness.

Moving up to the shoulders now. These shoulders that take on our burdens and the burdens of others. Let them relax. Let them drop. Noticing the effect this has on our mind. Relaxing the shoulders, relaxing the thoughts. All the while, revitalising our consciousness.

Placing awareness now onto our legs. Strong legs that for most, keep us upright and mobile. Allow them to be heavy. To sink into the chair or the cushion. Inhaling relaxation into these legs, and recharging clarity, seeing more clearly, through mental fog as it starts to lift.

Moving down to our feet. Incredible feet that bear the weight of our entire body. Give them a rest. Let them be still. Keeping our attention just on our feet, refuelling alertness, replenishing our energy.

And finally, the mind. This human gift that can create and solve and love. Enable thinking to settle, let thoughts float on through. Rejuvenating consciousness, resting in stillness.

Let’s take a pause now to check back in with mind and body, imagining or sensing once more the wholeness of this body – which incorporates the mind – and see if you can notice any differences to when we first began.

Are you feeling more relaxed? Are you feeling more alert?

Take this quality now into some silent meditation, or with you as you go about your day.

Thank you.