Are you too nervous for sitting meditation?

Does sitting straight cause you physical or mental pain?

Are you “suffering from ADHD” or in other words enjoying a surplus of energy?

Walking meditation or meditative movement may be the way to go for you, literally!

Find out about the walking or moving meditation techniques you can use right here right now.

You might also consider a flow method to move intuitively.

What is walking meditation?

Essentially walking meditation is

  • any slow (no running or jumping is involved)
  • silent (without music, talking or thinking)
  • directional (forwards, backwards or sideways)
  • and conscious (done on purpose with full attention and awareness – not scrolling e.g.)

movement on two feet.

When walking, walk. – Zen proverb

Walking meditation allows you to tune out of thoughts and be present within your body.

It helps you minimize distractions and be here and now fully.

Ideally you change into a state of flow where nothing else matters other than the current step.

Walking meditation can be practiced almost everywhere and helps you deal with overthinking, difficult emotions or even anxiety.

Fear is impossible in the state of flow.

So it’s either or. When you move fully present in the now fear simply dissipates.

Moving on from sitting Zen meditation

Nowadays I practice the yopada flow or intuitive movement.

Why that? Sitting (Zen) meditation is simply too hard for me.

Yopada moving meditation is combining yoga, parkour and (conscious, ecstatic or transformative) dance/movement techniques among other influences.

Before I practiced sitting Zen meditation for around a decade. I did it for an hour a day (30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the evening).

Yet it always was difficult for the body of a geek who spent his life sitting and staring into screens. I had a “tech neck” before it was mainstream!

Za Zen or sitting Zen meditation has a historical context in Asia, specifically in Japan.

There people sit on the floor traditionally and can do it for hours with no effort.

The chair is a Western monarchist invention to elevate the king above everybody else. It’s very unhealthy to sit that way.

Sitting Zen also has a monarchist background.

According to Alan Watts, sitting Zen only got introduced under pressure of Japan’s medieval rulers and is not required.

Luckily most of us live in democracies nowadays.

Monarchies have been disbanded long ago with the exception of a few oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia or UAE.

One of the most fundamental democratic human rights is freedom of movement.

Likewise sitting is not or no longer required to reach Zen states or not the only way to meditate at all.

During the decade of Za Zen I was also training parkour. Even though parkour requires utter focus like Zen I did either or.

Either I jumped or I sat down for a break, sometimes in places I would not reach without parkour otherwise.

Now that I discovered the yopada approach it is easier to combine both Zen-types of awareness and movement.

Walking meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

Yet I’m obviously not the first to advocate moving meditation. It’s also part of the Zen tradition.

You probably have heard of Thich Nhat Hanh, the by far most popular Zen master in the West.

He was already widely cherished during the 20th century for spreading inner and outer peace.

He was even helping Vietnam veterans who committed war crimes during the war.

One of the methods I considered was the walking meditation as practiced by him and his disciples in the Plum Village.

It’s basically walking very consciously and focusing on your breath.

Yet it was a method made for a quiet place like a Zen garden. 

In case you live in the countryside, have a large enough garden or clean enough park nearby it might be perfectly sufficient for your needs.

Just visit the Plum Village site then – the monastery of Thich Nhat Hanh – to learn about this popular type of walking meditation.

Walking meditation in the dirty city

Unlike a Zen master I live in an often dirty, loud and crowded inner city area of Berlin, Germany.

There are many places to warm up and train parkour etc. here by now – think

  • skate parks
  • basketball courts
  • calisthenics bars
  • ping pong tables. 

Yet even getting there is a bit of a challenge when you are sick like I was for very long periods of time.

So I had to become a bit more inventive in order not to waste these paths.

Some of these walking meditations are self-evident, others less so. Let’s start with the easier ones.

1. The ninja walk

Ninjas were spies in medieval Japan. They moved sneakily to reach their destinations without getting noticed. 

Unlike popular culture that depicts them mainly as assassins they were mostly used for gathering intelligence.

Likewise, moving like ninja, we can sneak upon our false selfs.

The only person we aim at is the fake persona or mask that is pretending to be us while playing roles.

That false self or ego torments us, bombarding us with often useless repetitive thoughts that often hurt us like the proverbial “inner critic”.

The ego keeps us in a fight, flight, freeze or fawn instinctive paralysis and tunnel vision.

The ninja walk is fairly simple. Every step has to be as silent as possible. So you probably will want to 

  • walk on your toes
  • make smaller steps
  • and place your feet cautiously one after the other.

When the fake self throws something at you again, like “this is stupid”, “who do you think you are”, “you are childish” you can change direction slightly, duck or even drop to your knees. 

Do whatever seems appropriate to evade a “lack attack” of “you are not enough” and similar thought patterns.

Your body knows intuitively what the best possible path is.

Visualize these thoughts outside of you and move in a way where they can’t reach you.

These thoughts could be viewed as attackers you have to evade and defeat to reach your destination.

They could also be weather phenomena – fear could be fog, anger a storm, self-criticism could be headwind. 

All thoughts are like clouds that are in your peripheral vision and only matter when you focus on them in most cases.

Indeed these thoughts are not “yours” at all. You have just overheard them, many as far back as in childhood.

They haunt you ever since and return as the false friend called ego who claims to protect you. 

Make sure not to scare anyone when you walk up on them like a ninja. 

When you are surrounded by people you can also use stealth mode so that nobody realizes you are a ninja

Just pretend you are a regular citizen then and only walk a bit slower. 

Some people may become annoyed at you for walking too slowly. Then you can also stop and look around. 

Just don’t get distracted and play around with thoughts that appear whether inside or outside on billboards or screens.

Focus on the steps and return to your path no matter how many attackers use “weapons of mass distraction” (smartphones, billboards, newspapers etc.) on you.

2. The pattern walk

This is a type of walking meditation that you often see kids do out of their natural playfulness.

As youths or adults we are told not to play anymore and be “responsible”.

Yet responsible means literally able to respond.

By training you are learning to respond to an emergency which often requires sudden movement and body weight shifts.

In parkour it’s a common way to overcome obstacles by using strides, jumps or sometimes even flips. 

Advanced freerunners do this on obstacles and often cross several walls in a row without stopping.

This is also called “the floor is lava” and rumored to be the original parkour.

Yet you can do it on the ground level as well. You can do it when walking. When you cross the street just stepping on the white parts of the crosswalk e.g.

You probably also do it already on wet days by trying not to step into the puddles. 

Most sidewalks already have some kind of pattern with individual stones or panels.

The easiest way is just to touch every second panel or skip some stones depending on their size.

Keep your pattern (of skipping one or two stones) until it bores you and you become distracted. Then vary it a bit.

This will make you aware of your surroundings and stop thinking already. Once thoughts appear you can make it more difficult.

Sometimes the ego will tell you that you embarrass yourself playing like a kid.

Then you can pretend that you are in a hurry and start running, still trying only to touch the ground in the pattern you decided to use.

Realize that the ego only reflects societal programming to make you conform.

You can walk anyway you want. It’s not illegal, antisocial or something.

These patterns can vary. What I like is the knight movement from chess: one square to the front or to the side and then one diagonally.

Once you get used to this it can become too simple so that thoughts appear again to distract you.

3. The varied walk

When you get tired of patterns too quickly and get distracted the opposite may be yours – trying to change every step. 

When warming up for parkour or playing my dog I would run backwards or sideways or doing circles while running.

You can go a step further by focusing on each step – pun intended.

Also a step does not have to be (just) a step literally.

  • One step may be a stride
  • the next a lunge
  • the third a jump.

Yet don’t make it too difficult from the start. You don’t have to venture beyond mere walking yet!

You can walk a casual step, then a hurried one, then a cautious one. 

You won’t get far quickly that way yet will stop thinking about anything else fast!

Why? It requires your whole attention to vary every step.

This type of walking has been also featured in the Dune novel and movie series. It’s one of my favorite space operas.

In order not to get killed by giant worms the Fremen (as the locals of Arrakis are called) use a dance walk where every step has to differ from the former/next.

4. The blind walk

This one is obvious, you close your eyes and try to walk ahead without looking at everything.

Most people do not look at their surroundings anyway. They just focus on the very things next to them.

You can cheat a bit at the beginning and in unsafe conditions by looking ahead like 20, 50 or 100m and when the road ahead is

  • empty
  • clean
  • and straight

you might walk then with eyes closed.

You will have to focus on every step by trying not to hit any obstacles or people.

It also works with stairs in the dark and similar cases, pun intended haha. 

You will be surprised how a staircase you always walk with the lights on will become an adventure just because you “forgot” to switch the light on.

Yet do it only in safe environments or supported by other people! This method can quickly hurt!

5. The backwards walk

The backwards walk is also what it says. It’s in a way a version of the blind walks even though your eyes are open.

As above you can also cheat by looking ahead and the turning around.

It’s most fun when you start to run backwards.

I did this a lot when my best friend (who happened to be a dog) was older and later injured and she wasn’t motivated to run. So I would just turn around and run backwards facing her.

She would more gladly follow even though she walks half blind and deaf too.

To get a treat she also had to move in between my legs at the end.

You can mimic that as well by simply imagining a dog and leaving enough space for your best friend to cross your path between, underneath or above your legs.

Again, just like with the blind walk ensure you are in place and situation where you can’t hurt yourself easily

Make it more difficult to enjoy the freedom of movement

Of course there are endless variations and combinations of those.

You can make it more difficult by walking backwards blindly in varied patterns like a ninja!

You can also touch your surroundings for support and additional difficulty. This is one of the key elements of parkour and thus also yopada.

Instead of ignoring the city and its architecture we focus on walls, stairs, rails etc.

Instead of just shielding yourself with a toxic PVC mat from the ground like in Western yoga gymnastics we touch the ground and beyond.

Instead of merely walking in a generally accepted and prescribed way – which is the way of least resistance – we dare to challenge ourselves.

We literally dance with the

  • walls
  • stairs
  • rails

or whatever we encounter on our path.

Instead of thinking thoughts that were prefabricated for us to keep us at bay and easily governable we stop thinking and focus on the here and now.

  • It’s very liberating.
  • It restores our energy.
  • We can reach flow that way.

We literally enjoy the freedom of movement which is not just about travel or crossing borders.

We also overcome boundaries in our daily lives that otherwise limit us at every step.

Once walking meditation does not suffice anymore you are welcome to try the yopada “dancing with the walls” approach with me.

You can bring your kids, dogs etc. as well, they will surely inspire us!

We also practice walking meditation when we move from one place to another!

Yet we also do more creative moves like balancing and intuitive flow movement when we want.