THURSDAY, March 2 - Sure, we know that walking benefits physical health, and most of us have experienced the mental benefits of a good stroll--but spiritual fulfillment too? Many people believe you can walk the road to spiritual fulfillment through prayer-walking, which incorporates reflecting, philosophizing, or meditating into your walking routine.
"Prayer-walking encompasses a full spectrum of practices and techniques, from prayerful sauntering or nature-walking to a more disciplined practice akin to Buddhist walking meditation," says Linus Mundy, author of "The Complete Guide to Prayer-Walking: A Simple Path to Body-and-Soul Fitness." "I think it exercises the whole person--mind, body, spirit."
There's a long tradition of getting the body involved in prayer and meditations says Joseph T. Kelley, Ph.D., professor of religious studies at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. "If you look at a medieval monastery or convents, you'll see a large open area where the monks and nuns would walk and pray," says Kelley. "Essentially, an architecture actually grew out of prayer-walking."
What's more, prayer-walkers will argue that walking and praying or meditating really may put you a "step" ahead of those who simply sit and reflect quietly. The rhythm of the walk may help to emphasize the idea that "with any good spiritual exercise, one moves from the mechanical to the mental to the spiritual as one progresses," says Mundy.
The movement may also help to remove outside distractions so that the person is able to concentrate on a spoken prayer. For Christian prayer-walkers, it may provide one with inspirational scenery--like crashing waves and a beautiful beach sunset--that "will emphasize the majesty of God," says Sharon Thompson, Ph.D., associate director with the Florida Baptist Convention.
In a Buddhist walking meditation, the movement itself--stepping in careful coordination with breathing, counting, and "utterance"--actually provides the sense of spiritual fulfillment.
For those looking to add another dimension (and new benefits) to a walking routine, Mundy offers you this advice: "There is no wrong way to prayer-walk. I prefer going solo, but others like to go as a group. It's a very personal thing. Read whatever you can find about prayer-walking or walking meditation for some background and inspiration, and then go out and do it your way!"
"When we do walking meditation, the point is not to get somewhere, but rather to practice, using walking as the object of our attention." Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen master and poet.