Monday, January 19, 2015

Walking Meditation

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Lao-tzu

Photo: Jennifer Prugh

It's early morning, just before dawn. We rose to practice yoga asana together in this different place, different country, different experience, and our leaders tell us that our practice this morning will be different, too. Instead of exploring mountains and triangles and warriors, we are going to walk the shore of Lake Malawi as a meditation, an inner exploration.

I roll up my mat, remove my socks (it's cold, but I don't want them to get sandy) and step onto the sand, recalling the instructions for walking meditations taught to me years ago. This is a practice that I find very useful, and not just as an alternative to seated meditation. During times when I felt most uncertain about my beliefs, my opinions, my path, I found peace and strength from walking meditation. I hear the cues in my head.
Stand. Pause. Breathe. Notice.
Feel your feet, observing the texture of the surface you're standing on.
Start to shift your weight from one foot to the other, moving slow enough to notice the subtle changes.
I feel the cold sand slide beneath my feet as I transfer my weight. The unevenness reminds me that I will need to stay present if I want to keep my balance.
Begin the simplified movements of walking in place: lift your heel, push the ball of your foot, feel the bottom of your foot as it lands, then repeat with the other foot.
I begin moving with the rhythm of my own breath and I notice that others have already begun walking and I am far behind. No rush, I tell myself. When I feel as if someone has pulled me by the heart, I slowly advance forward.
Inhale. Lift. Push. Feel. Drop. 
Exhale. Lift. Push. Feel. Drop.
Over and over again I follow the cues in my head. I remember the instructor explaining that people practice walking meditation at many different speeds, but that I should find the speed that keeps me focused on what is happening right now.

After a while, I catch up to the back of the pack. I decide to find a new texture and walk through the shallow parts of the lake, a large enough body of water to offer small waves lapping the packed sand. The water is much warmer than the sand and my toes are happy. I repeat my steps in the water for as long as I can. When I reach a place on the shore where a small river is connecting with the lake, I look up and see the sky glowing.

I want to hold this sight forever. But a wave tickles my ankles and the sand shifts beneath me. Time to let go. Time to turn back. Time to reconnect. The practice awaits.

Inhale. Lift. Push. Feel. Drop. 
Exhale. Lift. Push. Feel. Drop.