In this video and article, you will learn how to do walking meditation using the Zen Kinhin technique (pr. Kin’ Hyin’ or Kin’ Yin’, both syllables with equal accent). Instructions vary according to tradition, so we’ll get as comprehensive as possible so that you can find a method that suits you.
Traditionally, monks do Zen walking meditation in between Zazen sitting meditation sessions. The practice is designed to train the practitioner to integrate meditative awareness into the most mundane activities when they are not on the cushion.
Walking meditation is something you can do indoors or outdoors. You can try Kinhin during your next nature hike for a serenity boost.
Zen walking meditation begins with a mudra, or hand position. There is more than one position that is traditionally used. We’ll start with the mudra that seems more popular.
Shashu Hand Position
Form a fist with your left hand and tuck the first section of your thumb into your fist. Your first couple of fingers are wrapped around it.
Place your fist on your solar plexus, the sensitive point just under the bottom ribs. The back of your hand is facing away from your body, and your wrist is touching your body. Your forearm is parallel to the ground or floor.
Take your right hand finger joints that are closest to the palms, and rest them on your left knuckles. Your right fingers are pointing to the left and resting on the back of your left hand. The right fingers and thumbs are together.
Pull your elbows away from the body slightly so that the forearms are parallel with the floor.
To “lock” your forearms into place, you want to rotate your hands slightly upward. Find your comfort zone. For some, the right knuckles will be pointing upward at a 45 degree angle. For others, they will be even more vertical.
With this lock, you should feel like your forearms can easily stay horizontal without much effort.
Alternative hand position
Place your right hand on your solar plexus with fingers pointing to the left. The junction where the fingers meet the palm is centered on the solar plexus.
Place your left hand over your right hand with the fingers pointing to the right. Position it so that you can make a triangle with your thumbs. The thumbs are barely touching. The fingers of each hand are together with no spaces in between.
You can use the same lock that you use with the Shashu mudra to keep the forearms parallel to the floor/ground.
How to Do Zen Walking Meditation
Be sure you have space to walk in a fairly good size circle or oval. You probably want ten feet or more in one direction. 100 feet is also great. For long and narrow areas, you’ll just need to pivot as efficiently as possible without much interruption.
1. In a standing position, get into one of the two mudras.
2. Stack your vertebrae, one on top of another, all the way up. You will feel like your chin wants to tuck in a little bit to keep the spine vertical.
3. Look downward at roughly a 45 degree angle. The eyes are not focused on anything in particular, so let the gaze soften. You will be more focused on feeling what is going on within.
4. Walk. Put your right foot forward. Land on your heel. Let the ball of your foot touch the ground, then your toes. Repeat for the other foot. You want to become increasingly aware of the heel, ball and toe touching the floor/ground.
5. Pay attention to how you’re breathing. Your awareness is focused inward. If thoughts come up, just hang with them. It is OK for them to exist. They are happening in the present moment and should not be resisted. Then, be absorbed in the feeling of the heel, ball, toes and the breath.
Some traditions are very gentle and slow. You walk very slowly while focusing almost entirely on the feeling of your feet making contact with the ground. Others are more brisk with a faster pace. You just need to experiment to find your rhythm.
The length of the stride also varies. You may take baby steps or longer strides.
You can also synchronize your breath with your walking. Breathe through the nose. Lift one foot on the inhale and let it touch the ground on the exhale. Repeat.
There are many Zen monasteries, each with their own methods. The bottom line is that you want to become increasingly intimate with the feeling of your feet making contact with the ground, and you want to be aware of your breath. Regardless of how deep or shallow your breath is, you want to be present with it.
In monastic settings, Zen walking meditation is often performed in groups. The instructions for this are often very formalized.
In groups, practitioners generally form a single file. Some rules require that they walk in a clockwise circle.
If you want to break away to the bathroom and take a squirt, you typically bow to the group and do your business. When you want to re-enter the walking meditation line, you bow again and join the train.
Advanced walking meditation techniques sometimes involve beating each other with pool sticks. This is only for the seasoned initiates, however. Sounds strange, but it is Zen after all.
There is a small chance that I’m making this part up, although it wouldn’t be all that surprising if it were true. It’s friggin’ Zen. You’ll just have to look it up.
These are the instructions for the Kinhin Zen walking meditation technique. Despite the formalities, you may notice that the overall concept is very simple. You are easing into the experience of the feet touching the ground and the feeling of the breath.
Practice it alone or with a few of your friends. Ever deepening serenity will follow.
Tom Von Deck is a meditation trainer, speaker and author of Oceanic Mind – The Deeper Meditation Training Course. Tom specializes in making meditation a much easier and more customized process for busy and non-busy people from all backgrounds and paths. He is the Mackdaddy of the Deeper Meditation Blog and DeeperMeditation.net.
Are these instructions helpful? What are your experiences with Zen or non-Zen walking meditation techniques? Share your thoughts in the comments below.