Discover the Dignity of Kinhin: Zen Walking Meditation at Your Zen Center

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Monk sitting near a pond meditating Kinhin.

As a longtime practitioner of Zen meditation, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the simple yet profound practice of mindful walking, known as Kinhin. After long seated meditation sessions, Kinhin offers a chance to stretch the legs, reconnect with the body, and immerse oneself in walking with awareness. Far from just being a break from zazen, Kinhin is a form of meditation that cultivates mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

In this in-depth guide, I’ll explain what Kinhin is, how to practice it, and why this Zen walking meditation matters.

Key Takeaways

  • Kinhin means “walking meditation” and bridges periods of seated zazen.
  • It involves prolonged walking in circles at the pace of the breath.
  • Kinhin’s posture incorporates hands in the Shashi mudra position.
  • The practice cultivates mindfulness and focus into the walking process.
  • It provides mind-body benefits between long sits by energizing circulation.
  • Walking in time with the natural breath rhythm is critical.
  • Slow, steady steps train concentration even amidst motion.
  • It can be traced back to Buddha’s walking meditation.
  • The alternating motion and stillness integrate practice on and off the cushion.
  • Avoid common mistakes like rushed pacing or losing awareness.
  • Regular Kinhin develops patience, balance, and inner tranquility.

What is Kinhin?

Kinhin (Chinese: jingxin xingdao) is a form of active meditation in Zen Buddhism where practitioners mindfully walk around the zendo (meditation hall) during periods between seated meditation. The term comes from the Japanese kin (“walk”) and hin (“sutra”), referring to meditative sutra chanting done while walking between periods of zazen.

Yogapedia defines Kinhin as “a walking meditation practiced between long periods of sitting meditation to relax the legs and feet.” The definition explains the meaning well – Kinhin provides much-needed movement to relieve the body after long stretches of stillness in zazen. But beyond just being a break, Kinhin allows meditators to sustain awareness of the activity of walking with intention.

So,  Kinhin is a walking meditation practiced in Zen monasteries and centers between periods of sitting meditation. It involves walking around the zendo clockwise with a specific posture and gait. The walking cultivates mindfulness from moment to moment, complementing the non-doing meditation of zazen.

How is Kinhin Practiced?

Kinhin is performed by slowly walking in a circle in a clockwise direction around the meditation hall. The walking periods typically last for 5-10 minutes between longer 20-40 minute periods of sitting zazen.

Here are the prescribed movements and postures for practicing Kinhin:

  • Stand with the feet together, toes slightly apart, and heels in line.
  • Take a half step forward with the left foot so the feet are now hip-width apart at the heel.
  • Place the right fist over the left with the thumbs wrapped inside the fingers of each hand. This hand position (shashu) represents holding a begging bowl.
  • Walk slowly in a clockwise direction along a marked walking path at an average pace coordinated with the breath.
  • As you inhale, lift and shift your weight onto the heel of the left foot.
  • As you exhale, your right foot comes forward in line with the center of the left foot, with the right heel landing first.
  • After complete exhalation, pause briefly as the weight shifts forward onto the right leg for the next inhalation.
  • Keep your upper body centered over the walking path as you move, with your head and eyes cast slightly downward.
  • Maintain awareness of the breath and each footfall. Let any thoughts arise and pass without attachment.
  • Stop and stand still when a bell rings, signaling the next zazen period.
  • Bring the feet together on the last ring of the bell before bowing. Then, leave the zendo to resume seated meditation.

So, in short, Kinhin is referred to simply as walking – but walking mindfully, slowly, with good posture, and following the natural breath. The walking cultivates concentration as you pay close attention to the placement of the feet with each step. Any mental chatter or thinking is noticed and let go of as you bring awareness back to the walking.

TIP: Focus on feeling your feet connect to the floor rather than getting lost in thought. The sensations of walking keep you anchored in the present moment.

Why Practice Kinhin?

Kinhin serves multiple complementary purposes in Zen meditation:

Mind-Body Refreshment

After sitting still in meditation for up to 40 minutes, Kinhin offers a chance for the body to move and energize. The slow walking prevents aches and pains from long periods of zazen. Gentle stretching of the back, neck, and legs recharges the body to remain alert upon returning to stillness.

Cultivating Mindfulness

Kinhin trains the practitioner to be fully present and mindful, like seated meditation. But instead of following the breath on the cushion, you cultivate moment-to-moment awareness while in motion. Kinhin grounds you firmly in the walking process.

Mental Concentration

As in zazen, Kinhin develops powers of mental concentration (samadhi). The focused attention on walking keeps you centered amidst distracting thoughts. Awareness stays “in the body” while walking at a steady, slow speed.

Transitioning Meditative States

Kinhin helps transition from one state of meditative awareness to another. The walking bridges zazen periods, moving energy upward and keeping the mind clear. Regular practice links sitting and walking to cultivate “all-day Zen.”

Relieving Restlessness

When the legs get restless or the mind agitated, Kinhin gives you a chance to stretch and re-collect yourself. The movement and rhythm of mindful walking calm physical and mental restlessness before returning to stillness.

Sweeping Zen explains that during Kinhin, each step should be taken after a full breath, ensuring a slow and mindful pace.

So, in essence, Kinhin complements zazen by allowing meditators to sustain awareness into motion and back again into seated stillness. The walking is itself meditation in action.

Mastering Kinhin Posture and Walking Pace

Here are some key points to ensure the proper practice of Kinhin:

Posture

  • Keep the spine elongated with the head and shoulders relaxed. Avoid slouching or rigidity.
  • Gaze rests gently downward 4-6 feet ahead. Eyes are open but soft.
  • Arms hang loosely at your sides. Don’t flex your hands unnecessarily.
  • Maintain shashu hand position with thumbs inside fingers. Right fist rests atop left.

Walking

  • Take each half-step slowly at an even pace coordinated with the breath.
  • Lift your back leg fully so both feet come parallel as you step. Keep feet hip-width apart.
  • Feel the connection of each foot to the floor as it lands. Tread mindfully.
  • Don’t look around. Stay centered without losing awareness of your surroundings.
  • Match the pace of fellow practitioners. Don’t walk hurriedly or lag.

Breath

  • Inhale as weight shifts to rear foot, exhale as front foot steps forward.
  • Pause briefly with complete exhalation before the next inhalation.
  • Keep breathing naturally. Don’t force-regulate or control the breath.

With proper posture and measured pace, Kinhin cultivates grounded, embodied awareness from step to step around the zendo. Don’t worry about speed – trust the breath as your guide.

TIP: Align each front and back foot heel-to-heel with toes pointing forward to walk a straight line.

The Origins and History of Kinhin

Woman in field practicing kinhin.  Sunlight in a green field

Where did this iconic Zen walking meditation come from? Kinhin developed alongside seated meditation as a yogic mind-training method traceable to the historical Buddha:

Buddha’s Teachings

The early suttas describe the Buddha practicing walking meditation under trees before his enlightenment. Afterward, he prescribed mindfulness while walking to complement sitting.

Monastic Discipline

In the Vinaya monastic code, monks were instructed to practice walking meditation for balance after meals or long periods of sitting.

Chan Buddhism

As Chan (Zen) developed in China, Kinhin became established as walking meditation between zazen periods. Dogen brought the practice to Japan after studying in China.

Japanese Zen

In Soto Zen monasteries, the Kinhin periods enable monks to keep circulation during lengthy sitting sessions. The walking sustains mental clarity off the cushion.

So, Kinhin has ancient roots as a practical means to cultivate mindfulness equally in motion and stillness. The simple practice aligns the body’s movement with the natural breath and rhythms of the mind. Today, Kinhin continues to energize meditation as Zen has spread worldwide.

How the Breath Guides Kinhin Walking

The breath is essentially your walking partner in Kinhin. Learning to coordinate each step with the inhalation and exhalation enhances fluidity of movement. Here are some key points:

Inhale/Exhale

Time the forward step upon exhaling. Inhale as the back foot lifts and weight shifts onto the rear leg. The breath regulates walking.

Natural Pace

Don’t force an artificial breathing rhythm. Let the Kinhin steps follow your natural breath cycle. Depth and speed of breaths will vary.

Steady Steps

Aim for steady, continuous steps, avoiding hesitation between each breath. Let the inhale-exhale motion guide the walking without interruption.

Pause & Flow

After a complete exhalation, pause briefly before inhaling. Feel each step as part of the flowing breath cycle: inhale, exhale, pause, repeat.

Awareness

Stay attentive to coordinating movement with the breath. If the mind wanders, gently return focus to the walking process.

Ideally, Kinhin’s breathing should feel spontaneous yet measured, like swelling waves. The breath ties together the endless cycle of steps around the zendo. Let this gradual walking rhythm lull the mind into meditative awareness.

TIP: If steps fall out of sync with breathing, slow down slightly rather than forcing an artificial pace. Let the breath lead.

Cultivating Awareness & Concentration

Beyond just stretching the legs, Kinhin is a focused meditation that develops concentration power. Here are the keys:

Narrowed Attention

Keep your attention fixed on each step and breath. Avoid getting visually distracted while walking.

Sensory Grounding

Feel the connection of the foot to the floor to stay grounded in the walking. Note sensations in the soles of feet.

Mindful Steps

Maintain full awareness and control of each half-step. Don’t “space out” or go on autopilot.

Present-Moment Focus

Keep focused on the sensations of the current step, not daydreaming about the past/future.

Letting Go of Thoughts

Allow thoughts and emotions to come and go freely, without following or resisting them.

Balanced Energies

Aim for a balance between relaxed awareness and alert concentration amidst walking.

Regular, dedicated Kinhin aids concentration stamina both on and off the cushion. You learn to stay composed while in motion through present-moment mindfulness.

TIP: When distracted, note “thinking” and gently return attention to the physical sensations of walking.

Using Kinhin to Manage Restlessness

Person connecting to their higher self with light all around them.

Due to the simplicity of just placing one foot after the other at a slow, steady pace, Kinhin can be very effective for dealing with a restless mind and body. Here’s how:

Channeling Energy

Rather than suppressing restless energy, Kinhin allows you to channel it directly into mindful walking.

Soothing Motion

The gentle, repetitive steps have a calming, hypnotic effect on a restless, agitated mind.

Stable Footing

Each footfall grounds you back into the walking process, preventing you from getting lost in thought loops.

Present-Moment Anchoring

Focusing awareness on the sensations of each new step continually anchors you in the now.

Regulated Breathing

Tying steps to the breath cycle helps balance and steady restless breathing patterns.

Releasing Tension

The slow stretches of legs and back unwind physical tension that may underlie restlessness.

Rather than battling restlessness through sheer effort, Kinhin absorbs this energy into a simple, repetitive motion. Walking and breathing align to settle both mind and body.

TIP: If restless, don’t avoid Kinhin. Consciously channel that energy into each mindful step.

Common Kinhin Mistakes to Avoid

While deceptively simple-looking, Kinhin can take some practice to master. Watch out for these common errors:

Rushed Pace

It’s easy to start walking too quickly as eagerness sets in. But hurried steps only scatter the mind. Stick to a slow, measured pace.

Irregular Steps

Catch yourself if steps become asymmetric or imbalanced from leg to leg. Aim for smooth, harmonized walking.

Getting Lost in Thought

Daydreaming about the past or future breaks present-moment focus. Gently return to sensory awareness of walking.

Forced Breathing

Don’t try to regulate inhales/exhales artificially. Just let breathing follow its natural rhythm during walking.

Loss of Concentration

Stay vigilant against mentally “checking out” due to boredom or fatigue. Reengage attention on each new step.

Looking Around

Keep your eyes cast down without glancing around at the surroundings. Avoid visual distractions and stay inward.

Buddhistdoor Global advises to keep your hands in shashu position – one hand closed in a fist while the other encloses it – for proper posture during Kinhin.

Remember, Kinhin is meditation-in-motion. Don’t just walk mindlessly. Consciously sustain awareness step after step around the hall.

TIP: If struggling, slow down the pace further. Rushing causes Kinhin mistakes. Speed follows concentration.

How Kinhin Differs from Other Walking Meditations

While Kinhin is unique, it shares common elements with other meditative walking practices:

Matching Breath and Movement

As with mindful walking in yoga or qi gong, steps are synchronized with the breath. But Kinhin follows a distinct pattern.

Circular Paths

Unlike outdoor walking meditations, Kinhin follows set circular routes inside, often around a central statue.

Slow Pace

The very slow Kinhin steps contrast with longer strides and faster-paced walking meditations.

Structured Posture

Other practices may not prescribe exact hand positions, like the Shashi mudra of Kinhin.

Alternating Activity

Kinhin uniquely complements seated meditation, transitioning between stillness and motion.

While common themes like present-moment focus unite all walking meditations, Kinhin stands apart in its structural role of energizing zazen and the Zen tradition.

Advice from the Zen Masters

Here are some insightful words on Kinhin from these renowned Zen teachers:

“When walking, just walk. When sitting just sit.”

  • Shunryu Suzuki

“Do not be too busy with Kinhin. Just walk.”

  • Kosho Uchiyama

“Let go of thought and just walk naturally.”

  • Robert Aitken

“Slow walking is Zen walking. Though you may not be in a retreat, treat walking as Kinhin.”

  • Zoketsu Norman Fischer

These masters encourage simply walking without artificiality or judgment. While giving full attention to the steps, relax into the natural walking process. Just wander peacefully like clouds and flowing water.

Integrating Kinhin into Your Meditation Practice

Here are some ways to incorporate mindful Kinhin walking into a steady meditation routine at home:

  • Alternate 5-10 minutes of Kinhin between 20-minute periods of seated meditation.
  • Designate a clockwise circular path in your living space to follow. Move any obstructions.
  • Set a gentle timer bell or chime to begin and end the walking periods.
  • You can also practice Kinhin outdoors by walking in circles around a tree or garden path.
  • Feel free to modify hand positions. The key is maintaining a steady posture and a slow pace.
  • Pair Kinhin with breath exercises and yoga stretches for a complete mind-body meditation session.

Frequent Kinhin will strengthen your concentration for zazen, carrying awareness into everyday activities off the cushion. But always remember – it’s not just exercise, it’s walking meditation!

The Benefits of Regular Kinhin Practice

With regular, diligent practice, slowly wandering the meditation hall in Kinhin can yield these wonderful benefits:

Physical Balance

-Improved circulation in legs and feet.

  • Greater joint flexibility and range of motion.
  • Muscular strength and cardiovascular stamina.

Mental Balance

  • Develops concentration and sensory awareness.
  • Promotes mindfulness and presence.
  • Instills patience and focus.
  • Reduces restlessness.

Emotional Balance

  • Calms and centers the mind.
  • Releases stress and anxiety.
  • Boosts mood through endorphin release.
  • Cultivates serenity and inner peace.

So, along with all the gifts of seated meditation, dedicated Kinhin practice confers both physical relaxation and mental tranquility. Just by walking in small circles at the pace of breath, you gain greater harmony in body and mind.

Conclusion on Kinhin

In Zen Buddhism, mindful walking, known as Kinhin, provides an essential complement to seated meditation. Regularly alternating periods of zazen with slow-paced Kinhin helps meditators remain centered and aware beyond just sitting still.

Though deceptively simple on the surface, learning to walk with intention, care, and focus forges an unshakable experience of being present. We must start somewhere to realize that even ordinary activities like walking can anchor us in each moment. When practiced diligently alongside daily sitting, Kinhin meditation can profoundly enhance mental clarity, concentration, and inner peace.

So escape the trap of just sitting there on the cushion. Rise up and take a peaceful stroll around your seat – footsteps guiding you along the Way each step of your life.

FAQ on Discover the Dignity of Kinhin

Q: What is the definition from Yogapedia, and what does it explain the meaning of Kinhin?

A: According to Yogapedia, Kinhin is a Zen Buddhist walking meditation practice. It is usually performed between long periods of the seated Zazen meditation to alleviate the physical stiffness. During Kinhin, Zen practitioners mindfully move around the room, typically following a one-way or simple round-trip course like a clockwise rectangle.

Q: What do the latest articles say about Zen Buddhism and its relationship with Kinhin?

A: The latest articles on Zen Buddhism highlight the importance of Kinhin as an integral part of Zen practice. As a moving meditation, Kinhin complements the seated practice of Zazen by providing variation and motion and helps practitioners bring the mindfulness cultivated during Zazen into everyday activities. It extends the benefits of meditation throughout the practitioner’s day.

Q: How does Yogapedia explains the technique and posture during Kinhin?

A: Yogapedia explains that in Kinhin, your right-hand forms a fist with the thumb wrapped flat over the top of the first fingers, and the left hand wraps flat over the top of the right, thumbs lightly touching. This hand positioning, known as Shashu, is held against the solar plexus. Your feet are typically slightly less than hip-width apart at the heel. As you walk, move slowly, with each step landing so the suitable heel lands in line with the toes of the left foot.

Q: Why is the left hand placed over the right during Kinhin?

A: The left hand covering the right in Kinhin is a gesture of respect in Buddhist tradition, which is often depicted in the poses of Buddhist statues. This hand positioning, or Shashu, keeps your mind and body unified during walking meditation.

Q: According to Buddhism, why do Zen practitioners move around the room during Kinhin?

A: In traditional Zen practice, the Kinhin walking meditation allows practitioners to stretch their bodies after the stillness of seated meditation. It’s also a way to maintain mindfulness between periods of sitting. Moving around a room slowly and deliberately allows the Zen practitioner to focus their mind, helping to create a deeper state of meditation.

Q: What does the latest articles say about the relationship between Kinhin and Zazen?

A: According to the latest articles, Kinhin and Zazen are complementary practices in Zen Buddhism. Zazen, or seated meditation, typically precedes and follows Kinhin. This alternation allows the meditator to balance periods of intense stillness with more active, but equally mindful movement. Both are crucial aspects of Zen practice and feed into each other.

Q: How to keep your mind at peace during Kinhin?

A: During Kinhin, aim to keep your mind focused on the act of walking itself, the sensation of each step, the feeling of your feet gripping the floor, and the act of breathing. Each in-breath and out-breath can coincide with a step, providing a rhythmic pulse to your practice. These concentrated actions help maintain the mind’s presence and calmness, embodying the Zen Buddhist principle of mindfulness.

Q: What is the recommended place to walk during Kinhin?

A: Kinhin is traditionally practiced in a quiet and peaceful place, often in a Zen center or home, following a clockwise path around the room. It can also be practiced outdoors in a conducive and non-distracting environment. The main aspect is to have enough space to walk slowly and continuously.

Q: Are there any specific periods of walking suggested for Kinhin?

A: The length of Kinhin can vary depending on the individual and the flow of their meditation practice and from just a few minutes to a more extended period. Typically, in Zen centers, Kinhin may last for around ten minutes between periods of seated meditation.

Q: Can you explain why Kinhin and meditation matters according to the teachings of Zen Buddhism?

A: Kinhin and meditation matter significantly in Zen practice as they cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and insight, fundamental aspects of Buddhist teachings. Kinhin, in particular, is a valuable tool for integrating the mindful awareness cultivated in seated meditation into movement and everyday life. The continuous practice of both allows a Zen practitioner to experience a sense of calm, clarity, and compassion in their daily activities.

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