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Exercises for Nourishing a Buddha Body and a Buddha Mind

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By Thich Nhat Hanh

Here are some simple exercises you can do to reinforce the connection between your Buddha body and Buddha mind.

Walking Meditation

The mind can go in a thousand directions.
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms.

Walking meditation is meditation while walking. We walk slowly, in a relaxed way, keeping a light smile on our lips. When we practise this way we feel deeply at ease, and our steps are those of the most secure person on Earth. Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking — walking not in order to arrive, just for walking, to be in the present moment, and to enjoy each step. Therefore you have to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment. Anyone can do it. It takes only a little time, a little mindfulness, and the wish to be happy.

We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. Our hurried steps print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. If we can take one step in peace, we can take two, three, four, and then five steps for the peace and happiness of humankind.

Our mind darts from one thing to another, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch without stopping to rest. Thoughts have millions of pathways, and we are forever pulled along by them into the world of forgetfulness. If we can transform our walking path into a field for meditation, our feet will take every step in full awareness, our breathing will be in harmony with our steps, and our mind will naturally be at ease. Every step we take will reinforce our peace and joy and cause a stream of calm energy to flow through us. Then we can say, “With each step, a gentle wind blows.”

While walking, practise conscious breathing by counting steps. Notice each breath and the number of steps you take as you breathe in and as you breathe out. If you take three steps during an in-breath, say, silently, “One, two, three,” or “In, in, in,” one word with each step. As you breathe out, if you take three steps, say, “Out, out, out,” with each step. If you take three steps as you breathe in and four steps as you breathe out, you say, “In, in, in. Out, out, out, out,” or “One, two, three. One, two, three, four.”

Don’t try to control your breathing. Allow your lungs as much time and air as they need, and simply notice how many steps you take as your lungs fill up and how many you take as they empty, mindful of both your breath and your steps. The key is mindfulness.

When you walk uphill or downhill, the number of steps per breath will change. Always follow the needs of your lungs. Do not try to control your breathing or your walking. Just observe them deeply.

When you begin to practise, your exhalation may be longer than your inhalation. You might find that you take three steps during your in-breath and four steps on your out-breath (3–4), or two steps/three steps (2–3). If this is comfortable for you, please enjoy practising this way. After you have been doing walking meditation for some time, your in-breath and out-breath will probably become equal: 3–3, or 2-2, or 4–4.

If you see something along the way that you want to touch with your mindfulness — the blue sky, the hills, a tree, or a bird — just stop, but while you do, continue breathing mindfully. You can keep the object of your contemplation alive by means of mindful breathing. If you don’t breathe consciously, sooner or later your thinking will settle back in, and the bird or the tree will disappear. Always stay with your breathing.

When you walk, you might like to take the hand of a child. She will receive your concentration and stability, and you will receive her freshness and innocence. From time to time, she may want to run ahead and then wait for you to catch up. A child is a bell of mindfulness, reminding us how wonderful life is. At Plum Village, I teach the young people a simple verse to practise while walking: “Yes, yes, yes” as they breathe in, and, “Thanks, thanks, thanks” as they breathe out. I want them to respond to life, to society, and to the Earth in a positive way. They enjoy it very much.

After you have been practising for a few days, try adding one more step to your exhalation. For example, if your normal breathing is 2–2, without walking any faster, lengthen your exhalation and practise 2–3 for four or five times. Then go back to 2–2. In normal breathing, we never expel all the air from our lungs. There is always some left. By adding another step to your exhalation, you will push out more of this stale air. Don’t overdo it. Four or five times are enough. More can make you tired. After breathing this way four or five times, let your breath return to normal. Then, five or ten minutes later, you can repeat the process. Remember to add a step to the exhalation, not the inhalation.

After practising for a few more days, your lungs might say to you, “If we could do 3–3 instead of 2–3 that would be wonderful.” If the message is clear, try it, but even then, only do it four or five times. Then go back to 2–2. In five or ten minutes, begin 2–3, and then do 3–3 again. After several months, your lungs will be healthier and your blood will circulate better. Your way of breathing will have been transformed.

When we practise walking meditation, we arrive in each moment. When we enter the present moment deeply, our regrets and sorrows disappear, and we discover life with all its wonders. Breathing in, we say to ourselves, “I have arrived.” Breathing out, we say, “I am home.” When we do this, we overcome dispersion and dwell peacefully in the present moment, which is the only moment for us to be alive.

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