Ultimate Guide To Zen Walking Meditation Technique [Kinhin]

zen monk doing zen walking meditation technique

In this tutorial, we will look at Zen walking meditation technique (Kinhin). You will find this meditation very soothing and relaxing. 

Zen walking meditation technique (“Kinhin”) is a traditional form of Buddhist mindfulness that offers many health benefits. It is used in Chan Buddhism, yoga (through the teaching of Swami Sivananda and Swami Satyananda) and Theravada Buddhist monasteries.

We perform walking meditation by applying the concept of mindfulness to walking. We focus the mind on the movement of walking. When we do this, we increase the mind-body connection, heighten mindfulness, and boost our mental well-being.

I personally believe that most people use walking as meditation anyway. Sure, they might not call it that. But how many times do you go for a walk just to get out and relax? And when you walk, are you mindful of your surroundings? I hope so. Because mindful walking is wonderful for our health.  

Zen walking meditation is a little different to your regular stroll. Indeed, it takes the best parts of walking, mindfulness and relaxation, and intensifies them.

As with other styles of Zen meditation, there are specific ways to practise. Let’s take a look. 

Instructions  for Zen Walking Meditation Technique 

Here’s how to practice walking meditation in the Zen tradition.  

I recommend doing Zen walking meditation barefoot. Because walking barefoot on the grass has a ton of benefits: 

Benefits of doing walking meditation with bare feet

  • Reduces sympathetic nervous system activity
  • Promotes parasympathetic nervous system activity
  • Improves the pain response
  • Improves heart rate variability
  • Reduces primary indicators of osteoporosis
  • Improves glucose regulation
  • Improves Immune Response
  • Reduces blood viscosity.

All this occurs through the process of earthing, which is why we have bare feet when performing Japanese forest bathing and Nordic hygge.

When the bare feet touch the earth, they soak up the Earth’s negative ions according to the Journal of Environmental and Public Health [1]. 

Instructions for Zen walking meditation technique.

  1. Find a path approximately 40 foot in length. If you have a garden, start by reading our supplementary guide to creating a Zen garden
  2. You can practice barefoot or wearing light shoes. Barefoot is best. 
  3. Place your hands in Shashu mudra position (see image below).  Make a fist with one hand. Now lightly grasp that fist with the other hand. This is the Shashu mudra.
  4. Begin to walk up and down the path at a slow walking pace. You want to land your step on the heel and let the ball of your foot touch the ground before your toes.
  5. While walking, meditate on the sensation of movement in your feet and legs, everywhere from your toes to your pelvis. Also, be aware of how your mind instructs your body to move. If you look closely, you will feel the connection between intent and action. Meditate on that connection.
  6. It can be helpful to label the parts of your movement. For instance, “Left foot lightly pressing on ground,” “Stepping forward with right foot.”
  7. Ajahn Nyanadhammo from Dhamma Talks suggests using a mantra if you struggle to focus. He recommends the mantra “Buddo”. You may do this using Chankramanam, where the mantra is synchronised with your steps.
  8. Take some time to also meditate on your surroundings. Smell the air, enjoy the colours of your meditation garden or walking space, use your senses to explore. Practice mindfulness while you walk.
  9. When you reach the end of the path, turn and repeat
  10. Keep your eyes down and do not focus on anything
  11. Find a comfortable pace, neither too fast nor too slow.
  12. Focus your attention on your body and the sensations in your body.
  13. Allow your attention to enter your feet and lower legs.
  14. Feel the movement of each step and the way it feels in your feet. Feel each movement when taking a step. Be aware of the raising of the foot, the leg swinging, the foot returning to the ground and then the other foot taking over.
  15. If you find it helpful, count each step. Counting can help you to stay in the present moment.
  16. Practise for 20 minutes.

 

Taoist Adaptations

There are also Taoist walking meditations, which use the following guidelines.

Aimless Walking

To do this we first gaze around our surroundings and then begin walking, stepping with no particular pace. The first few times around the path we meditate on the surroundings. Then we ignore the surroundings and walk aimlessly.

Daoist Martial Walking

Daoist martial arts (like Taiji, Bagua, Xingyi) include various forms of walking that are designed to improve martial arts.

Dantian Pulling

Another form of Daoist Walking is Dantian pulling, which involves visualizing being pulled from the various dantian, or energy centres in the body.

There are also other forms of spiritual walking, such as Labyrinth Walking, Pilgrimages, and “spiritual running” (Kaihogyo in Japan, and Lung-Gom-Pa in Old Tibet)

Body Scan Method

There is a modern adaptation of the traditional Buddhist walking meditation in which we gradually scan the body while walking. This is based on Jon Kabat Zinn’s Body Scan meditation. We bring our consciousness to our toes, feet, ankles, lower legs, thighs and so on.

how to do zen walking meditation and benefits
how to do zen walking meditation and benefits
shashu mudra
shashu mudra

Benefits of Zen Walking Meditation (Kinhin)

Zen walking meditation technique is one of the most popular forms of meditative-movement.

If you follow our newsletter, you’ll know that there are many different active meditations, ranging from dance to tai chi, but one of the most popular is the Zen Kinhin method.

There’s something distinctly cathartic about walking, isn’t there? You put your runners, boots, or sandals on and head out the door, and you immediately feel a lift in your chest, an expansion, freedom.

It’s more than merely relaxing, though. There are significant health benefits of walking meditation. Research highlights the following key benefits.

1:   Better digestion

My grandma used to tell me that I should take walk after dinner. And she was right. It aids digestion. Of course, this is also true of a regular stroll, not just a mindful walk. However, mindful walking benefits us more than a regular stroll because meditative exercises stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” system, which can reduce the symptoms of stress-related digestion problems.

 

2: Increases blood flow

Most people already know that sitting for too long is unhealthy. Mindful walks help to get blood flowing through the body according to researchers at New Mexico Highlands University [1]

 

3.: Reduces anxiety

Walking meditation benefits your mind by calming your mood and helping with anxiety. A 2017 study by Paul D. Loprinzi [University of Mississippi] published in Health Promotion Perspectives showed that walking helps alleviate anxiety, especially if you combine walking with meditation. [2]’

4: Depression relief

It is a well-known fact that regular exercise is beneficial for overall mental health, and can be helpful for depression. A 2014 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine revealed that people who had depression observed a decrease in symptoms after doing walking meditation 3 times a week for 12 weeks. [3]  

 

5: Improves blood sugar levels and circulation

A 2016 study revealed that practising mindful walking is beneficial for people with diabetes. For the study, participants practised either mindful walking or regular walking for 30 minutes, 3 times a week for 12 weeks. Walking meditation technique was found to be more beneficial than regular walking. [1]

 

6: Improves well-being

 Similar to Forest bathing meditation, taking a walk in nature is incredibly beneficial for overall mental health. One 2018 study by the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences showed that 15 minutes of walking through a forest alleviated anxiety and improved mood. [4]

 

7: Improves sleep quality

Exercise improves sleep quality, and research shows that it doesn’t need to be an intense form of exercise. Walking meditation may help improve sleep quality.   

  

8: Enhances balance

A 2019 study indicates that practising meditative walking could potentially increase balance and coordination, especially in older people. [5]

 9: Easier to focus

When you’re feeling lethargic it can help to move gently and slowly. One of the benefits of walking meditation is that it helps us to focus. The sensations in the body can help stimulate the mind so we focus better.

F.A.Q

What Is Walking Meditation?  

As you can see by the instructions above, walking meditation is basically just mindfulness during a walk. Zen walking meditation technique, “Kinhin”, takes your regular old stroll and turns it into a powerful Buddhist mindfulness practice. And it’s just marvellous. When you Zen walk, you focus your mind on the act of walking. This helps to silence your thoughts, opens your mind, and feel a tremendous sense of liberation which can only be described as freedom. 

What are the different types of meditative walking techniques?

Walking is actually used in many different religions and spiritualities. Different spiritualities have their different names for their walking practicesIn Zen the term used is “Kinhin”. Zen monks practise Kinhin (walking meditation) between periods of sitting (Zazen). But it is also in Korean Seon and Vietnamese Thien, Daoism, and sometimes done in yoga.

Traditionally, Zen monks would walk clockwise around a room while holding their hands in a specific position. The position has one hand closed into a fist while the other hand grasps the fist. This hand position (or “mudra”) is called Shashu.

With their hands in Shashu position, Zen monks would walk slowly around the room, consciously focusing on the movement in their legs (similar to how you focus on your body when you do a body scan meditation).

How long do you need to practice for benefits?

The more you practice, the more benefit you will see. But of course, time is limited. You don’t want your practice to interfere with other activities you have going on in the day because then you will feel compelled to rush once you finish your walk (which is, of course, counterproductive).

I find twenty minutes to be an ideal length of time, but anywhere between ten minutes and an hour is okay. The good news is that you probably spend a long time on-foot anyway. Simply decide to be mindful while walking. That way you get the practice without losing time.

Should you increase the speed of walking while you practice?

You’ll naturally find a good speed as you practice. It’s best not to think about how fast you are walking, but rather to focus on the meditation itself. As you relax, you will likely slow down, simply because you are more aware of the process of walking itself.

Where are some good places to Zen walk?

Aim for places free of distractions. Nearby parks and footpaths can be useful. Provided you will have the peace to get into the meditation, anywhere is usually fine. Naturally, roads should be avoided.  You can technically do mindful walking anywhere. It is a matter of attitude. As the quote goes, “The man of Zen walks in Zen and sits in Zen” (Osho, Walking in Zen, Sitting in Zen)

But I don’t have the time!

One of the questions I get asked the most as a teacher is “How do you find the time to meditate?” Many people live very busy lives. Finding time is not easy. Thankfully it is possible to incorporate meditation into your everyday life without losing too much time. Meditating while walking is one way to do that.

Zen Walking meditation technique is an exercise that you can practice without losing time. Though Zen Walking Meditation is usually practised in a garden, it doesn’t have to be. If you are on your way to work and know a safe route away from roads, you can leave ten to twenty minutes early and practice Zen Walking Meditation on the way to work. The same applies for all other times when you are travelling. Simply leave a little early and take a safe route (avoid roads!).

Zen doesn’t have to take much time. Monks may meditate for hours every day, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Simply look for some ways to incorporate meditation into your everyday life. 

Can I practise in a group?

Yes! It is great to do Zen Walking Meditation technique with your family or friends. You’re probably used to chatting away with family and friends, but spending some quiet time together and going for a walk is another great way of bonding. You’ll find that you feel much closer to friends and family after a mindful walk together.

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SOURCES:

1: How walking benefits the brain, Science Daily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170424141340.htm

2:  Differential Experimental Effects of a Short Bout of Walking, Meditation, or Combination of Walking and Meditation on State Anxiety Among Young Adults, Meghan K. Edwards, MS  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0890117117744913

3: Susaree Prakhinkit, Siriluck Suppapitiporn, Hirofumi Tanaka, and Daroonwan Suksom.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.May 2014.411-416. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2013.0205

4: Effects of Walking in Bamboo Forest and City Environments on Brainwave Activity in Young Adults, Ahmad Hassan,1 Jiang Tao,1 Guo Li,1 Mingyan Jiang,1 Liu Aii,1 Jiang Zhihui,1 Liu Zongfang,1 and Chen Qibin  https://www.thedailymeditation.com/ultimate-guide-to-forest-bathing-meditation-script-benefits-more

By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

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