We have written a lot about the great mental health benefits of walking meditation. Lately I have taken to practicing walking yoga too, and it’s awesome. At the center of yoga is breathing. The ability to regulate breath under exertion helps us to bring autonomic functions like heart rate and blood pressure under our conscious control. As the physical challenge increases, our bodies want us to breathe harder. The brain wants the heart to pump out more blood and get more oxygen to every corner of our bodies.
Keeping our ujjayi breathing slow and rhythmic in the face of this physiological challenge creates a portal through which we walk to discover Self. Ujjayi means victorious breath, and I think this is an especially apt name when we consider the triumph of keeping our minds calm even though they feel chaotic and keeping our breathing rhythmic when all we want to do is gasp for air. If you can accomplish this feat you will be in a meditative state, completely in the here and now and not thinking about anything except your breath.
I realized that I was missing out on a lot of opportunities during the day while off the mat to practice victorious breathing while physically exerting myself. There are many ways to practice yoga. Walking up hills at a brisk pace can be quite challenging when you are fully focused on keeping your in-breaths and out-breaths slow and rhythmic. Yoga means yoke, and what we are yoking together is mind and body. You can accomplish this feat as easily by walking as by practicing asanas. Both focus on body movement and breathing.
You will be shocked by how challenging walking up a hill can be when you are determined to keep your breathing slow and rhythmic. I have actually found some hills I walk around Seattle to be just as challenging as practicing yoga in a hot room. I feel the same sense of euphoria and accomplishment when I reach the top as I do when I have performed a sequence well. It is really good practice for the mat and I am noticing benefits in the studio. Regulating my breathing has become easier while holding difficult poses.
Walking yoga has great applications for people dealing with injuries that are keeping them off the mat. It also has great applications for people who want to deepen their practice, because it creates extra opportunities to yoke mind and body, inhabiting that meditative state that is so appealing and invigorating. If you are walking somewhere anyway, why not take advantage and shift your journey from the mundane to the extraordinary.