It's not always easy to stop, and, well, smell the roses. But if you're in need of a respite from the rush of everyday life, consider walking meditation, which blends aspects of traditional meditation -- breathing, concentration and extreme relaxation -- into the act of walking. "Walking meditation helps us to calm and to become more aware of our body," says Mitchell Ratner, a senior teacher at Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center. "It works the mind in a different way, and gives cramped legs and backs a chance to stretch." This type of reflection is good for people who tend to become restless when sitting too long or who want to try another form of meditation. Other benefits can include stress reduction, lowered anxiety levels and improved concentration.
What To Expect: Every class or group is different, but most share common elements, including guidance from a teacher about breathing and the process of mindfulness (nonjudgmentally being aware of one's immediate thoughts). Most sessions start with the ring of a bell and a group bow from the students, who are usually in a circle formation. At the sound of another bell, students begin walking at a deliberate tempo. "Although walking this slowly can feel awkward at first, for most people it quickly becomes more natural," Ratner said. "Our natural breath leads our steps. We don't try to force our breathing into our steps or control it." It's important to keep pace with the person in front of you so that everyone can follow along. There may be sitting meditation in the same session, as well as readings from meditative books.
What To Bring: Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. You may also want sunscreen and sunglasses if the practice takes place outdoors.
The Cost: Generally, there is no charge. In many cases, however, participants can offer "dana" -- donations in the Buddhist tradition of voluntary generosity.
Places to Get Your Zen On:
Shambhala Meditation Center of Washington. 8719 Colesville Rd., Suite 210, Silver Spring. 301-588-7020. www.shambhala.org/centers/washingtondc/index.shtml. Shambhala is a secular tradition that holds the view that a dignified life based on meditative understanding is accessible to everyone and can lead to an enlightened society. Walking meditation is a component of the Sunday sessions, held 9 a.m.-noon.
Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center. 301-270-8353. www.stillwatermpc.org. Most gatherings are held at Crossings: A Center for the Healing Traditions, 8505 Fenton St., Silver Spring. Sessions, which are inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, meet Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6:30 a.m. Walking meditation is also part of Thursday's 7 p.m. meeting.
Washington Mindfulness Community. 202-723-0773. www.mindfulnessdc.org. WMC's sitting and walking meditation practice meets Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Washington Buddhist Vihara, 5017 16th St. NW. The community also follows the teachings of Thich
Nhat Hanh and Buddhism. A newcomer's orientation takes place at 6 p.m. on the last Sunday of each month.
Yoga Center of Columbia. 8950 Route 108, Suite 109, Columbia. 410-720-4340. www.columbiayoga.com. Beginning July 10, Still Water will sponsor Mindfulness Practice Evenings at this center. Sessions (Sundays, 6:30-8:30 p.m.) will include sitting and walking meditation, a welcome and introductions. Beginning July 15, the Zen Community of Columbia also will offer meditation sessions at the center (Fridays, 8-9:30 p.m.). For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-992-8009.