Walking is the oldest form of transportation known to nearly all terrestrial animals. For humankind, this mode of transportation was integral to dispersing around the globe. With the passage of time spiritual and religious groups began to incorporate conscious walking into their repertoires. Various breathing practices were also developed and sometimes incorporated with walking. This allowed, and does allow, the practitioner to reach deeper levels of concentration and focus. I personally prescribe to a walking pranayama practice as it allows me to combine my Buddhist leanings with my yogic practices. It is something that should develop as an extension of established pranayama practice.
What is walking. It is the synchronous coordination of bodily mechanics to move to a desired location. All animals walk to get to somewhere. Running, although requiring more energy, is also an option. Walking can be done at a very relaxed state. The efficiency with which walking can be accomplished makes it perfect for long term utilization. Walking can be continued for hours. The biomechanics of walking is fit to each type of body: elephants, dogs, antelopes, wolverines, all of these different animals have a specific type of walk or lope that is best suited for them.
For humans, there are structural adaptations that allow for moving in an upright position as well as being in an upright position. The foot and the hips are structured to effectively propel the body and to efficiently keep the body’s upright position. Walking is, mainly, how humans moved to different locales across the globe. Exploration, Dispersal, Adaptation . . . were some of the activities that humankind availed themselves of due to walking. It through walking that humans were able to observe their surroundings. Through observation, they could access the advantages of the various areas to which they migrated to determine what would be their most advantageous options.
With time spiritual beliefs societies and religions developed. In societies, walking became a necessity and a past-time. One could be carrying goods across the way or could walk to some scenic or secluded destination. On the practical side, the goods must get to market, by walking them there if necessary. On a more personal note, walking is a venue through which exploration of self and reflection can occur. Spiritual and religious practices that incorporate or are focused on walking have develop. The walking is coordinated to the rhythm of one’s breath. The practice of mindful walking, says Thich Nhat Hanh, is a profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection with our body and the earth.
Walking while employing special breathing techniques called pranayamas—such as exhaling twice as long as you inhale—compounds the ability to expel volatile toxins from the lungs. A prolonged exhalation emphasizes contraction of the abdominal muscles, thus activating the navel center, imparting additional heat and vitality.
Observing the breath as you walk also clears the mind of mental chatter and self-talk. If you’re thinking that that sounds like a formula for meditation-in-action, you’re right. A brisk walk with breath awareness is mentally refreshing. It may leave you feeling as if you’ve just finished meditating rather than exercising vigorously.
Just as with conventional pranayama practice, the benefits of “pedestrian pranayama” are possible only with good posture. Good posture and form while walking have more than just aesthetic value—they facilitate proper breathing. Because we have been walking since the first year of life, we have stopped paying attention to how we do it. For that reason, it’s worth taking a fresh look at walking.1
There are four points to consider if one is considering adding a walking pranayama practice to their repertoire:
- Body Awareness
- Breath Awareness
- Cultivating the Breath
- Lengthening the Exhalations
There is a schism exists concerning pranayama and walking. One side says that pranayama must be done in a seated position in order to avoid any excess exertion or strain. In the other camp, the opposite stance is upheld. Question: Do we not breath when we walk or run?? Specifically, with running, must not the breath be controlled, regulated and coordinated?? It is necessary to note that the synchronization of movements and breathing leads to the increased capacity and general endurance of the organism. So, walking in the rhythm of the breath becomes quite easy.2 I feel the walking and pranayama can and do co-exist. While walking, I only apply the breath modes that are not marginal in a quiet state. It is required to obey the rules of regularity, gradation and caution. My walking pranayama routine stays well within the bounds of undue strain to myself.
My personal journey for attaining and maintaining physical, mental and spiritual well being includes Buddhism and yoga. I find that walking pranayama is an excellent modality for uniting the two disciplines. There is the walking meditation referred to as Kinhin in Zen Buddhism. It is a slow, controlled walking practice the is interspersed between sessions of seated meditation called Zazen. I have practiced pranayama consistently for more the ten years. So, for me, bringing walking pranayama into my practices was a natural extension of what I was already doing. I, definitely, do not recommend this practice for everyone! It is a personal practice that must evolve organically. One must not push their physical limits. They must experience what their capabilities are in as relaxed a manner as possible. For me, it has become a totally fulfilling aspect of my practice.
Taking this mode of transportation to a more introspective level could provide huge dividends to the populous at large. The sedentary state of society has set up as disdain for walking. When walking is indulged, it is for the purposes of ‘getting there already’. Breathing goes out of the window, of course. Even if one does not have a spiritual practice or religious leaning, this method can be employed. This technique can be employed by those deconditioned individuals who need to get more movement in their lives. However, counselling from a health professional and a competent yoga instructor should be obtained. Remember, comfort wins the day with walking pranayama.