“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?