When the scope of our lives narrows, we have a chance to go deep, to discover the layers of complexity within small moments and simple activities, like walking. Even if the routes we take are more circumscribed, even if we are stuck inside, the experience of walking can be fresh and fascinating. It can even be yoga.
The explorations below—which progress from body to breath to mind—are designed to bring your mindfulness to your body, to your walking mechanics, and to the pleasure and importance of walking.
Go barefoot, or wear very comfortable shoes. You can make this a 40-day practice, incorporating one approach each day to fully metabolize its effects, or play with several of these approaches on one long walk. Notice how what you feel with each step can vary radically depending upon where you put your focus. Perhaps you will find an approach that enhances your habitual gait, or perhaps what feels best will be simply allowing your gait to change and change again.
1. Walk as you normally do. Get to know your own gait. Does it feel constricted or easy? What parts of your body seem to be working? Which parts take pleasure in your movement? Which seem to lead?
2. Walk with your toes unclenched, spreading them gently with each step as you roll over them.
3. Walk while paying special attention to your heel strike. The back of your heel ideally lands first on the forward step before your weight rolls toward the ball of your foot and your big toe. Do you hit the ground with the same part of your right heel and your left heel? Try to even out your heel strike on both sides.
4. Walk with your toes pointing forward, then slightly outward. Alternate and see how it feels.
5. Walk with your feet a touch wider than usual. Then move your feet closer and closer to an invisible tightrope. (Try not to look at your feet.)
6. Walk leading with your left foot, then your right.
7. Pay special attention to your back leg, and as you walk, push off strongly with the ball of that foot.
8. Settle your weight into your back leg so that, instead of your front leg leading, it is your back leg doing the work of moving you forward. (You may have to slow and shrink your stride to feel this.)
9. Shrink your stride if you haven’t already. Then lengthen your stride.
10. Walk a little slower than usual. Then walk a touch faster than usual.
11. Firm your outer hips in as you walk, noticing if this action helps you lengthen your spine.
12. Walk, allowing your pelvis to move—letting the right side of your pelvis come forward slightly with your right leg, the left side with your left leg.
13. As you walk, visualize an infinity sign looping around your pelvis; one side of the infinity sign comes forward with each step. (Again let your right side lead for a while, then your left.)
14. Allow your torso to twist slightly as you walk; turn your chest toward the forward-stepping leg.
15. Walk swinging your arms freely, keeping them parallel (instead of letting them cross your body). Turn your thumbs forward and keep your fingers loose. Move your right arm forward as your left leg steps forward, then let your left arm move with your right leg.
16. Walk keeping your heart lifted and your head centered, with your crown lifting as if it’s holding up a clay pot.
17. Walk as if every joint in your body has just been oiled.
18. Walk as if your skin is leading the walk, making it happen. Walk as if it is your flesh leading. Walk as if your bones are leading.
19. When it’s safe to do so, walk backwards. This may help release your hamstrings...and challenge your mind.
20. As you walk, draw your belly in and up on each exhale.
21. Walk while inhaling for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four. Let your steps coordinate themselves with your breath. Then walk while inhaling for four counts, then pausing for four counts, then exhaling for four counts, then pausing for four counts.
22. Walk for a bit while lengthening your inhale as long as you comfortably can; then spend some time walking while lengthening your exhale as much as you comfortably can. Even things out: See how long you can comfortably make both your inhale and your exhale as you walk.
23. Walk while silently repeating a prayer, mantra, or affirmation to yourself—"Have mercy,” or “Thank you,” or “Shanti,” until the words seem to become part of the sound of each footfall.
24. While walking, look toward the farthest-away thing you can see, focusing on that distant object for a moment. Then settle your gaze on the nearest thing. Keep shifting your focus, allowing your gaze to play.
25. Walk and listen. What is the farthest sound you can hear? What is the nearest sound?
26. Walk attuned to the sensations you feel on your skin: sunlight, air, clothes.
27. In the privacy of your home, walk in the nude. What changes? Why?
28. Walk as if your admirers are watching. Then walk as if you are invisible.
29. Walk as if you are heavy. Walk as if you are light. Then walk as if your upper body is light, and your lower body is heavy.
30. Walk as if all of your burdens just got lighter: it’s as if someone tied a balloon around each of them today.
31. Walk as if you just got the compliment of a lifetime.
32. Walk as if you have nothing to hide: You have just come clean with every secret, flaw, indiscretion, and transgression in your life, and everyone understood: turns out it was all okay.
33. Walk as if you have just forgiven the world for everything you’ve been holding against it.
34. Walk as if kindness is a guarantee. No one, friend or stranger, near to you or distant from you, will be anything but kind to you.
35. Walk with an awareness of the vast space beyond the thin blue atmosphere, the rippling darkness speckled with stars. Then walk with an awareness of the depth and sturdiness of the earth, its miles of layers, its hidden oceans, its iron core.
36. Walk as if the ground beneath your feet is sacred.
37. Walk as if you are a god, goddess, or other divine being, carrying a secret sacredness inside you.
38. Walk as if you are walking toward someone you love and have not seen in a long time.
39. Walk, noticing the miraculous multitude of forces that must collaborate to keep you moving. The muscles in your legs. The verticality of your spine. The will of your mind. The surface of the earth. Gravity. Space itself.
40. Walk as if walking is the most important thing you will do today, or this week, or this lifetime.
Maybe it is: Who says the more intellectually complex activities and more noticeable accomplishments of our lives are more valuable than fully inhabiting our natural movements?
This list scratches the surface, offering a starting place for your explorations of walking and the other movements of daily life. How would you like to approach the next step you take? The next vegetables you chop? The next sun you salute? Through such explorations, we may discover not only the limitlessness of these activities but the bottomlessness of our own attention. How little we need; how much we can find.