I was introduced to this mindful walking practice a few years ago on a weekend retreat by Tai Chi teacher and long-time meditator, Alan Smith. It made a strong impression on me and so I’d like to share it with you.
Alan pointed out to us that most of the time, when we walk about in our daily lives, we’re kind of leaning forward, as if willing ourselves into the future. He suggested that this unbalances us and so we have a less stable base to move from. Exaggerating this, by also holding our arms forward and leaning more, he demonstrated with a light push how easily we can be destabilised.
He then showed us a style of walking infused with the spirit of Tai Chi, in which with an upright, open upper body, we sink down slightly through the hips and the bending of the knees, allowing the ground to absorb our weight, before stepping forward. Walking like this naturally cultivates a sense of strength, relaxation and groundedness. Also, with the sinking down, there’s a kind of spring back up as you move forward, which is subtly energising.
Experimenting afterwards, what I found was that walking around like this, I have a more 360⁰ experience of the world around me. With my head lightly balanced and looking forward I am able to open to my senses. I see more – people, details on old buildings, splashes of colour, the sky in all its changing forms – and notice sounds of birdsong and chatter, different scents, the feel of air on skin and all the myriad changing details of each moment.
This is not so different from walking meditation as you may already know it, except here, rather than the focus being on the lifting and placing of the feet, it is more on this centred feeling in the core of the body, holding yourself upright, even slightly back, with a kind of soft strength as you sink down and move forward. Your chest and heart are open, your shoulders relaxed, arms loosely hanging by your sides.
Try this in your own home or out in the garden first to get the feel of it. Then once you have the essence of it, you can bring this into your everyday walking, even when you do need to walk fast to get somewhere. After all, jutting your head forward and leaning into the future doesn’t actually get you to your destination any faster and this way you can enjoy the journey more.