Commonly in a yoga class meditation simply consists of sitting still in silence. While I do see the purpose of this traditional style, I personally cannot always achieve a state of true yoga or harmony within myself from this practice. Sitting meditation is part of my daily practice, but for me there are days when I cannot deeply tap in that way. In fact it can even trigger an opposite effect, sending me spiraling so deep in a mental head trip and making me feel totally disillusioned. On such days when chronic pain or false sense of self are getting the worst of me, I find the most release and joy comes from the practice of walking meditation. Strolling around the yard, a city street, or just in the yoga studio, japa mala beads in hand, I can lose my worries and troubles, finding myself in what is actually real, beyond the stories I tell myself. I become aware and present in motion.
This is not only a beloved personal practice of mine, but one I truly love to share with my students. I have tried to always be a teacher who lets the students in front of me enhance whatever "plan" I had prior to class. Energetically, physically and emotionally their presence affects the unfolding of the particular class, as no one is exactly the same or even the same person they were yesterday. If I feel that my students would enjoy and benefit from this walking meditation practice in particular, I never hesitate to pull this technique (and the malas) out of my teaching tool bag. I also like to teach walking meditation as a way to shift the students’ perception, adding something new to their way of perceiving the space in which they move.
I will often place walking meditation at the beginning or end of a class. I start by lending everyone a Sacred Woods mala, strands of 27, 54 or 108 beads, each bead separated by a knot. Taking each bead between the thumb and ring ringer of the right hand, we pull one bead at a time towards us with each silent repetition of a mantra, a sacred word or phrase that keeps the mind steady and focused. Reaching the larger “guru” bead at the end of the mala, instead of crossing over it we spin the mala around and return in the other direction. We walk in slow circles around the yoga room together, or whenever the opportunity arises, I bring the class outside and we walk in the streets together practicing our japa meditation.
Meditation is not only practice, but a state of being. In the beautiful words of the late musician and great teacher George Harrison, “What you focus on is what you hold in your consciousness. And so that is what you feel, and that is what you are.” Walking meditation is a practice that carries our practice off the mat and deep into our consciousness, giving us a chance to integrate a yogic lifestyle into the sacred material world we live in.