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A Walking Meditation for Heart Health

Spiritual seekers throughout history have spent a good deal of time walking, and have developed meditative practices which can be done while walking.  This practice is from a method called Heart Rhythm Meditation, and it is described in the book Living from the Heart, by Puran Bair (my father) and Susanna Bair.  Heart Rhythm Meditation involves the use of conscious, full breath and a focus on the heart.  With this practice, you’ll become conscious of your breathing by coordinating the rhythm of your steps with your breath.  You may already do this naturally while you walk, without being aware of it, but this method uses a slower rhythm, which allows for a full, deep breath.  The average person uses only one-fifth of their lung capacity.  By extending the length of your breathing, you allow for a more efficient use of the oxygen that you take in.  Longer breaths are also more calming, but provide a great deal of energy. 

We are also going to make sure that the inhalation and the exhalation are the same duration.  Often when we breathe unconsciously, either the inhale or the exhale is longer or more forceful.  By balancing the breath, you will smooth out energetic imbalances which may have accumulated due to unconscious habits. 

So, when you are ready to walk, breathe all the way out, and as you breathe in, take a step with your right foot, and count 8 steps as you walk.  The eighth step will be your left foot, so when you take the ninth step, exhale, again for 8 steps (8-8).  You will find this easier to do if you are walking at a moderate pace on flat ground.  If this rhythm doesn’t work for you, try starting with 4 steps on the inhalation, and 4 on the exhalation, but try to work your way up to 8-8.  If you are walking very slowly, 4-4 may be a good rhythm.  The main thing is that there must be time for you to completely empty the air from your lungs, and then completely fill them.  This is called the full breath.  It gives you a great deal of energy.  Practice walking with this rhythm for a while, then see if you can maintain 8-8 on a moderate hill.  This is more difficult, but it builds up control over the breath.  Also, see if you can maintain a rhythm of 10-10, or even 12-12 on flat ground.

Once this step has been mastered, you can add to it by imagining that your breath is a stream of energy, which comes into your heart on your inhalation, and goes out from your heart on your exhalation.  Feel the breath coming into your heart from the back as you breathe in, sweeping you along like a powerful current, and pouring out from your chest as you breathe out, moving you forward in the direction you choose.

Try this method of Heart Rhythm Meditation next time you go for a walk — it can be practiced at any time, walking around your neighborhood in the morning, or walking to the car during the day.  I think you’ll find it adds a new dimension to your walking experience, by combining meditation with gentle exercise. 

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Asatar Bair, Ph.D. (asatar@mac.com) has been certified as a Teacher of Heart Rhythm Meditation by the Institute for Applied Meditation.  He is a professor of economics at Riverside Community College, and an avid hiker and runner.  This meditation is based on the book Living from the Heart, by Puran and Susanna Bair.

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