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These meditation techniques are good to go, helping you find focus and mindfulness on the road.

“Wait. Say that again. Did you just say you hug trees?”

“Yes. Whenever I go out into the woods, I stop and hug a tree…feel its energy, be with it. It’s a meditation technique.”

It’s not uncommon for travelers to incorporate physical exercise into their travel routine but we could also be exercising self-awareness by bringing a meditation practice with us on the road.

I was sitting with a literal treehugger. My friend, Mahila, has been meditating since she was six years old. In a school class her teacher did a relaxation exercise with the students. She was hooked. And so began her self-exploration.

Meditation is widely misunderstood. Many people picture it simply as someone sitting cross legged on the floor, mind blank, still as a stone. Yet one of the main ideas behind meditation is mindfulness — bringing awareness into ourselves. And this can be done in a lotus pose or while hugging a tree.

It’s not uncommon for travelers to incorporate physical exercise into their travel routine but we could also be exercising self-awareness by bringing a meditation practice with us on the road. As Christine Garvin put forth in her post Why You’ll Never Find the Perfect Time to Meditate, there’s no better time than the present. Here are ten simple meditation techniques to help get you back to the Now.

1. Breathe

No matter where you are, you’re breathing. This is the most basic and fundamental meditation technique and can be practiced no matter what you’re doing. All you have to do is bring your thoughts to your breath. As pointed out by Adam Friedman in The Ultimate Guide to Vipassana Meditation,

try to pay attention to the breath going in and out of your nose without controlling it. You just watch it. When you notice that your mind has wandered and you are thinking about something else, you bring your attention back to your breath.

This may be harder than it sounds. Don’t feel bad if you find your mind constantly getting pulled away by thoughts. Don’t judge, just be aware.

2. Repeat a mantra

Mantra is the combination of two Sanskrit words: man, “to think”, and tra, “tools or instruments.” A mantra is a tool for thought. It is a combination of words that is repeated over and over again, focusing the mind, changing your level of consciousness, and bringing your mind to a peaceful state.

A very basic mantra that can be used in conjunction with the breathing technique is the so-ham mantra. Breathing in through your nostrils, internally say so for the length of the breath, then ham on the exhale.

The next time you’re on a crowded bus shared with clucking chickens, give this a try.

3. Go for a walk

If it’s one thing we do a lot of while traveling, it’s walking. A walking meditation involves staying intent and focused on your steps. Pay close attention to your heel meeting the ground and your foot rolling onto the ball and finally the toes. Start moving that focused attention up to your ankles, then your shins, your knees, and up. Feel every sensation, even the clothes pressing against your skin. The slower you walk, the more attention you can give to even the tiniest of contacts and movements.

Photo by author

4. Notice nature

On a recent trip to the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, I hiked with a friend to the tip of a headland that overlooked an expansive ocean to the front, and hills full of tall trees to the sides.

We chatted as we walked to the end of the trail, but when we sat down, I stopped talking. I just watched. I focused on the wind blowing over the tall grass, the leaves on the trees rustling about, the waves rolling onto the land. I made myself present and dropped all other thoughts. I felt like I melted as tension washed down and off my body.

Take these opportunities when you’re on a hike or sitting on a chairlift — or wherever nature surrounds you — to re-connect. Take a moment to remember that we are not separate from nature, only a part of it.

5. Hug a tree

Last week I found myself with my housemate and our neighbour, about a kilometer up a logging road. We were collecting firewood to keep us warm for the upcoming winter. As the law permits, we were cutting down leafless trees. It hurt my soul to see them fall over, and then I remembered Mahila’s words to me about hugging a tree. So I did. I hugged two, actually. I put my arms around it, pressed my chest to it, and held it for a minute, trying to bring my consciousness to accept whatever it offered me.

And, of course, I was apologizing at the same time.

6. Synchronize with your surroundings

My tree-hugging friend told me another story where she used meditation to avoid sea-sickness. She was on a boat with several other travelers, all of whom got sick. She was able to avoid it by meditating with the waves, by synchronizing herself with the rolling of the boat.

A first instinct might be to fight against it, but better to accept things for what they are and let ourselves go along for the ride instead of fighting for control, a travel lesson I also concluded from Bruce Lee’s teachings.

7. Wander

This is something many of you likely already do, but is your awareness and consciousness in it? Hit the streets with no destination or expectations in mind. Don’t bring your guidebook (maybe bring a map to find your way home after though). As you wander, take notice of your feelings and instincts towards things you see. Honor these feelings by staying present and let them guide you around.

8. Watch the moon

Wherever you go, so goes the moon. It’s a humbling reminder that we bring ourselves with us when we travel. Some of us might be escaping and the newness and excitement of a foreign place momentarily suppresses what we haven’t dealt with. But in time, we realize it’s still there; that the moon we watched above the roofs at home is the same moon casting a shimmering light on the ocean’s surface. Re-connect with that moon and with yourself.

Photo: DavidSpinks

9. Listen to a guided meditation

More than likely, you carry an mp3 player with you when you travel. How about sparing some megabytes for a few meditation podcasts? Searching around the iTunes store or simply on Google you will find plenty of free downloads. Give it a try the next time you’re sitting on a plane, train, or bus.

10. Do some yoga

Since I recently started practicing yoga on a regular basis, I’ve noticed that I notice myself more often. My self-awareness has been kicked up a notch, and I now notice my bad posture or if my breathing becomes rapid in anxious situations. And I’m more likely to catch my emotions before I let them get the better of me.

If you don’t think you can do yoga while traveling, read Yoga Travel: Around the World in 80 Poses and 16 Tips for Yoga Travel Bliss.

Or how about some yoga poses for the plane ride?


Do you meditate on the road? What are some of the techniques you use, and how does it help you?



About The Author

Carlo Alcos

Carlo is the Dean of Education at MatadorU and a Managing Editor at Matador. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He lives in Nelson, British Columbia.

  • Flexicover

    Some great ideas here! I may try hugging a tree myself. Although it will have to be when no one is around…!

    • Carlo Alcos

      Indeed, give it a try. I must admit, I did make sure they weren’t looking when I did it ;)

  • David Miller

    enjoyed reading through these tips carlo. laughed a bit at the tree hugging scene (And, of course, I was apologizing at the same time.)

    i like where you’re going with this though, the continuing search for focus.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks David. I have to give credit where credit is due. Much of this was done in collaboration with my “treehugging” friend. I thought her views on this were very refreshing and a little different than what we might find out there. She’s inspiring.

  • Hal Amen

    Great piece, Carlo. And a needed reminder that mindfulness can happen anywhere.

  • Lola Akinmade

    Loads of solid tips in here. Thanks Carlo!

  • Kerry Lee

    If I didn’t “BREATH” when driving, I’d probably commit some road rage! It really does help.

    Of course the tree hugging is my favorite…. I am going to try it tomorrow morning when I walk the dogs (it’s dark so no one will see me, and the dogs won’t tell). It will be a great way to start the day!

    • Carlo Alcos

      Great! Would you report back here on the experience?

      • Kerry Lee

        Well, I gave it a try.
        It is finally, truly fall here – it has been below freezing a couple nights, and most of the leaves are down. There is a quaking aspen in the back yard that is always the last to let go. The leaves are mostly yellow and dry, and some have black on them from the frost. The trunk is small enough so I could wrap my arms around it. I closed my eyes. It was windy at the top of the tree, above the fence line. The leaves clacked and rattled, but the trunk was solid and didn’t move at all. I could feel the strength and independence of mother nature. It was bigger than me. It was calming. It was difficult to let go of that tree and head for the garage.

        • Carlo Alcos

          Sorry. I just noticed you left this comment. That’s beautiful!

  • josh

    The photo up top says it all for me. I find it easiest to meditate deeply in natural settings that are humbling and powerful. I call these place earth thrones. The woman in the photo is sitting on an earth throne and I know the feeling.

    Great piece Carlo

  • Jim

    A good illuminating read Carlo.
    For some years now I’ve been practicing similar, (haven’t hugged a tree yet ) a self developed meditation method, and it’s allowed me to utilize my intuition and perception to a greater degree. I’ve been surprised at being able to tune in to or pick up influences in my surroundings that have been quite weird. Recently I’ve started to blog about some events.
    I feel a lot of people could do similar, and how you’ve outlined your meditation tips will be very helpful to others. Takes time, and will happen by surprise when you’re not expecting it.
    If anyone is interested, go to my blog and check posts under Intuition/perception.

  • Jim

    Sorry , I left the link out.

    It’s a post designed to start a conversation on this very aspect of sensing other influences in our surroundings, by using a form of meditation, and allowing that inner intuitive response to any situation.
    If you follow the link to worldnomads, there’s an interesting story to read about.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks for the comment and link Jim. Just left you a comment there.

  • Jim

    Thanks Carlo,
    I accept what ‘Blink’ suggests but I would call that ‘wisdom’ as distinct from ‘intuition’. And in the situation I blogged about, I had no prior ‘life experience’ with a Stirling sub-machine gun so no way of knowing that I should not pull that trigger again, apart from that ‘voice’. That was just one incident.
    I’m going to do another blog about it soon. More revealing.

    It’s surprising what we could pick up from our surroundings, if we are attuned to the influences around us. What you’ve outlined is a method for doing this. Others pray.Some use mind altering substances. Shaman may use trance and rythmic drum. Witches dance in the woods, whatever, we’re all seeking in various forms a contact with our natural surroundings. And it may be possible.

    • Carlo Alcos

      I think the two (wisdom vs. intuition) might be hard to distinguish sometimes…we might think we’re experiencing intuition/instinct but in fact it’s our sub-conscious acting on previous experience. And I do realize about your specific experience, that it wasn’t based on any previous experience. I wasn’t meaning to downplay that at all. That is indeed something else altogether!

  • Jim

    ” That is indeed something else altogether! ”

    Ah, but what?

    • Sandra

      Your subconscious is aware of far more than your consciousness, and sometimes taps into things that you believe your consciousness could no way know. It could have been that.
      However, it is my personal belief that we all have guardian spirits, angels, or whatever you want to call them. They not only serve to protect us but to occasionally send us messages – if we know how to listen.
      “Spirit guides” (guardian angels, etc.) communicate with us in signs, symbols, feelings, visions, and dreams. Often the communication comes in pictures or images in our heads – such as an image of you NOT touching that trigger again.

  • Sandra

    Tree hugging has a bad reputation because of far right members of society using the phrase “tree-hugging liberals” and so on. But don’t let that block you from actually trying it. It can be extremely calming & peaceful, to hug a tree and just experience what that feels like.
    Once when I was in the midst of a personal crisis, I went off into the woods and hugged the first tree that seemed to call me. It prompted a cathartic crying spell in me, followed by a deep, peaceful feeling. After that, I was much better able to deal with personal issues.
    Another time I went into the woods alone and realized it had been far too long since I had been out into nature for my “recharge”. I had missed that feeling a lot. So as a way of both greeting nature again after a long absence and in order to re-connect with nature in a profound way, I hugged a tree.
    It totally works. If you have never hugged a tree but yet love nature, you’re missing out. Go off by yourself and try it sometime. You won’t regret it.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks for the story…and I know. Isn’t it funny how whenever someone gets a little left they’re branded “granola-eating tree-huggers”?

  • Jim

    I agree with you Sandra about our sub-conscious, and that there is also the possibility that our sub-coscious knows more than we have ever learned, and or forgotten. Perhaps the ‘guardian angel’ is in fact our intuition.
    BTW there was never an image of not touching that trigger again, just a ‘voice’ and a complete certainty that I ‘knew’ I should not, against an NCO yelling at me, which takes a bit of guts to disobey. I’ve had many similar incidents.But I’m not unusual, many other people do in one way or another, and your tree hugging events are similar. It’s getting in touch with your inner senses, a subject often written about here, but sometimes I think they’re skating upon the surface. :-)
    These days I am in awe of what each of us could tap into, if only we would allow our imagination to take us there.Sure I have been told it was all my imagination, then one day I considered they were right. They’re right for all the wrong reasons. It may very well be that the power humans have to imagine may be the portal to connection with other worlds.
    If you think about it, all religions use imagination to offer prayers, shaman use mind altering substances, drumming to alter their consciousness,buddhist meditate, etc, in essence all are altering their imagination to connect with spirits, gods etc.

    • Carlo Alcos

      I think you said a lot there Jim, about imagination. It really is powerful. Like in yoga practice, lying there on the mat, eyes closed, imagining your breath coming into your body as a bright light and making its way throughout your entire body. Even if we can’t explain why stuff like this works, it can make us feel better and produce physical results. We can’t ignore that.

  • Jim

    Good Carlos it doesn’t matter how you do it. That state of uncluttered mind that you achieve by breathing technique may take you to a stage where you are receptive to other influences or peel back the inhibitions built up that smother your intuitive abilities.
    Here is an email I posted to my blog, so it’s not a very good article but I want to rewrite it soon. But it’s pertinent to what you may be able to sense if you do at least try some meditation techniques. The event described at Red Terror’s Museum was totally unexpected. I was ill, suffering altitude effects, so had nothing in my mind when I walked in, and just felt ‘it’. Whatever it was or what they were.

  • Alina Radulescu

    Great tips, Carlo. I’ve never thrown the name “meditation” upon it, but I’ve been doing this kind of things all my life (including the tree hugging thing). If I may, I will suggest another one. Lay on the ground (preferably in some nice green grass) and watch the sky, while you let your body cover as much space as it needs. It makes me feel very free and changes my perspective of life. When you are down you can see everything differently and it feels like a relief that the sky is there, above everybody. It offers a mix of vulnerability and freedom.

    • Carlo Alcos

      Thanks Alina. Yeah, a lot of things we do to calm ourselves, bring us to the present, and just appreciate what’s happening around us can be considered meditation I suppose. It’s not just sitting in a lotus pose staring into space.

      Good addition!

  • Cecilia

    I love you guys! Reading this article and all your comments makes me feel like I might actually be normal! I have hugged trees before…but I have never confessed it before. I have also sat in perfect silence in the middle of nowhere just dreaming. I guess you could call it meditating, I’m silently appreciating God’s creation. But religion aside, we’re all just similarly moulded bits of flesh, right?

  • Rebecca

    Great post! I’ve pursuing meditation on and off for years but am committed to practicing more and more. I like breathing techniques and listening to meditation music (no one is speaking). The music is supposed to increase your brain waves and raise your vibration. I also like to do stretching exercises.

  • Rebecca

    Oops! … I meant to say, “I’ve been pursuing meditation on and off for years.”

  • L A

    watching sunset
    i always watch sunset in every new place

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