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A Guide to Walking Meditation
Hospitals and clinics can be frenetic environments. We know that performing optimally for the benefit of patients, families, and colleagues requires us to care for our basic needs and scatter moments of self-care throughout the day. One way to cultivate this awareness of the body and attend to its signals is through “walking meditation”—a focused awareness on the physical experience of walking.


ospitals and clinics can be frenetic environments, a constant buzz of energy and motion, where providers and staff juggle weighty to-do lists, minds and bodies multitasking for hours on end. We know that performing optimally for the benefit of patients, families, and colleagues through the duration of our workday requires us to care for our basic needs—using the bathroom, hydrating, nourishing our bodies, and when possible, stepping off the unit for a breath of fresh air. Scattering moments of self-care throughout the day often comes down to creating space for feeling and bringing awareness to the body. This allows us to notice how our body is reacting to the physical and mental rollercoaster. 

Walking meditation as a way of slowing down and checking in  

One way to cultivate awareness of the body and attend to its signals is through “walking meditation”—a focused awareness on the physical experience of walking. During walking meditation, we pay attention to the specific components of each step, bringing an embodied presence to an everyday activity that often occurs automatically. Disrupting the constant cycle of mental “doing” by dropping into the body through the awareness of walking is an opportunity to focus on internal sensations and external surroundings, tuning into experiences often missed when rushing from task to task on autopilot. Paying attention to the process of walking can also increase our appreciation and enjoyment of our physical bodies. Like other mindfulness practices, walking meditation cultivates a heightened awareness of mental and physical states, enhancing our ability to self-regulate and gain a greater sense of control over our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

The benefits are many, including a positive impact on our interactions with patients and colleagues, and the clinical care we provide. 

How to do walking meditation (3-5 min exercise) 

1. Find a location: Though walking meditation can occur just about anywhere, start familiarizing yourself to the practice by finding a lane that allows you to walk back and forth for 10-15 paces. Choose a space that is relatively peaceful where you won’t be disturbed. Walking meditation can be practiced either indoors or outdoors.  Since the goal is not to reach a destination, your walking lane does not need to be very long. 

2. Stepping: Walking meditation turns an activity that is usually performed without thinking, into a focused awareness of each deliberate movement. By breaking down the mechanics of walking and attending to the sensations of each component, we drop into the body. 
Notice at least four components of each step:  

  • Lifting one foot 

  • Moving that foot forward of where you’re standing 

  • Placing the foot on the floor, heel first 

  • Shifting onto that foot as the body moves forward 

Then the cycle continues: 

  • Lifting your back foot totally off the ground 

  • Swinging forward and lowering that foot 

  • Observing as that foot contacts the ground, heel first 

  • Shifting onto that foot as the body moves forward 

3. Speed: Walking meditation can take place at any speed. Formal walking meditation is typically done very slowly, while taking small, deliberate steps, to give us a chance to connect with the physical sensations in the present moment. However, it’s most important to adopt a speed that feels natural, and not overly exaggerated or stylized.  This is especially true if walking meditation is something you would like to incorporate at various points during your day, for example, while moving from place to place at work. 

4. Hands and arms: There are several options here, including clasping your hands behind your back or in front of you, or simply letting them hang to your side. Experiment and choose whatever feels most comfortable and natural. 

5. Focusing attention: As you walk, point most of your attention towards the sensations in your lower extremities: the swinging of your leg and foot; the pressure of your heel pushing into the floor; the shifting balance from one leg to the other. You can also direct some of your attention elsewhere: the way your head balances on your shoulders and neck; images your eyes take in; sounds from the environment. 

6. Wandering mind: No matter how attentive to sensations you are, your mind will inevitably wander. This is what minds do, and it is perfectly normal and expected.  Simply notice when wandering has occurred, make a gentle note “wandering mind” and, with a kind patience, return your attention to the sensations of walking. 

Integrating walking meditation into your daily routine  

Once you have had an opportunity to experiment with walking meditation in a few different settings and at a few different speeds, you may find the practice calming and grounding.  Cultivating an ability to drop into a space of equanimity through an embodied practice such as walking allows us to connect with ourselves in a quick, accessible, and recurring fashion throughout our frenzied day. One might begin to imagine how, when moving towards a stressful situation in the clinic or hospital setting, deliberately focusing on the sensation of walking can bring a calm, clear-headedness to the pending uncertainty.

Tuning in to this data non-judgmentally is a valuable mindfulness practice, opening ourselves to experience a sense of presence necessary to provide skillful and compassionate clinical care. 

This program is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.


David Sandweiss

Professor, Dept of Pediatric, Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, University of Utah Health

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