In our new Remote Wanderlust series, we’re exploring ways to travel the world from within your home.
Perhaps when you hear the phrase ‘meditation’ your mind immediately goes to a place of scepticism. Of hippies chanting ‘om’ in a jungle retreat. But in times like these, delving deeper than the stereotypical image of woohoo-wellness might be exactly what you need to clear your mind and make you feel more rested.
The English word ‘meditation’ derives from the Latin word ‘meditationem’ which means ‘a thinking over.’ Today, we’re looking at cultures around the world which have cultivated and pioneered the art of ‘thinking over’ throughout history.
India and China: Zazen
Zazen, also known widely as zen meditation or seated meditation, is a meditative technique deeply rooted in Buddhist psychology.
After being established in India, the monk Bodhidharma travelled to China in the 5th century CE, taking the zazen technique with him. The practice was favoured for its simplicity and spread throughout the land. Today, it serves as one of the building blocks for other meditation practices.
How to do it
The aim of zazen is simple. The practitioner sits cross-legged on a cushion placed atop a mat, freeing their minds of unnecessary thought, including judgmental attitudes. The inhalation and exhalation of breath is followed closely. In traditional zen temples, those practicing the technique are seated in a group within a hall.
The commencement of a zazen session is typically marked by a bell ringing three times. The end is announced by the bell being chimed once or twice.
USA: The Bud Winter approach
If this US military devised technique helps people drift off on the battlefield, you might find a use for this one in the bedroom.
During the Second World War, the US military commissioned a naval ensign called Bud Winter to formulate a meditative sleeping method to help fighter pilots catch some z’s. This approach was needed in order to ensure pilots were well-rested and less likely to make critical errors during missions.
The sleep hack Winter designed worked: 96% of pilots drifted off in under two minutes. This didn’t happen overnight, though. Pilots were found to have achieved better sleeps after six consistent weeks of practice.
How to do it
- Find a comfortable position – this is most likely to be your bed, but if you’re travelling, a plane or train seat will work too
- Completely relax your face – breath slow, deep breaths, shut your eyes and relax your forehead, cheeks, tongue and jaw
- Release tension in your shoulders – drop them as low as is comfortable.
- Exhale and relax your chest and legs – consciously relax your legs from top to bottom, imagine these are sinking into the bed
- Clear your mind – for 10 seconds, rid your mind of excess thoughts. Visualise yourself in a calm location or pay close attention to your breath
Japan: Forest bathing
Here’s one for the nature-lovers. Before we begin, no, forest bathing doesn’t involve getting nude or wet. Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is a style of nature therapy that focuses on absorbing the calming forest atmosphere to connect with the environment on a spiritual level. This method is perfect for those looking for a more active, sensory approach to meditation.
Forest bathing dates back to 1980s Japan. When studies revealed the physical and mental health benefits of nature, and that city-dwellers weren’t getting enough of it, the Japanese government brought it into the national health program.
How to do it
- Go alone to a quiet woodland area near you
- Consciously appreciate the natural surrounds, noticing three things you like. This can be anything from birds chirping to the wind in the leaves
- Deeply breathe in the clean air
- Physically connect with the different textures in the forest, gently touching the tree bark, moss or leaves