In our new Remote Wanderlust series, we’re exploring ways to travel the world from your home.
Perhaps when you hear the phrase ‘meditation’ your mind leaps to a place of scepticism. But in times like these, delving deeper than the stereotypical image of woohoo-wellness might be precisely 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.’ 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 became favoured for its simplicity and spread throughout the land. Over the years, zazen became 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 closely observed. 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 this helps in the bedroom.
During the Second World War, the US military commissioned a naval ensign called Bud Winter to formulate a meditative sleeping method that would help fighter pilots catch some much-needed z’s. This approach was required to ensure pilots were well-rested and less likely to make critical errors during flights and combat.
After several trials, the sleep hack devised by Winter actually worked. 96% of pilots drifted off in under two minutes. This didn’t happen overnight, though. The fighter pilots were found to have achieved better sleep 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 slowly and deeply, 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
If you’re looking to incorporate this method into your sleep routine, it helps to be consistent. Begin practicing during a week when you don’t have a packed schedule, and have less distractions during your day.
Japan: Forest bathing
Here’s one for the nature-lovers. Before we begin, no, forest bathing doesn’t involve getting nude, wet or sinking into your favourite tub. Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is a form of Japanese preventative health care and nature therapy that focuses on absorbing the calming forest atmosphere to connect with the environment on a spiritual level. ‘Shinrin’ translates to ‘forest’ in Japanese, and yoku means ‘bath.’
This method is perfect for those looking for a more active, sensory approach to meditation – one that doesn’t require you to simply sit still.
Forest bathing is a fairly modern concept, officially dating back to 1980s Japan. When studies revealed the immense physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature, and that city-dwellers weren’t getting enough of a fix, the Japanese government incorporated it into the national health program.
How to do it
- Head to a quiet woodland area or forest near you, and make sure you’re alone. It pays to select a time of day when there’s less foot traffic, perhaps early in the morning or at dusk. You’ll thank yourself for the beautiful change in natural light, too
- Consciously appreciate the natural surrounds and bring your attention to three things you particularly like. This can be anything from birds chirping, to the wind in the leaves, to the coursing stream
- Deeply breathe in the clean forest air
- Physically connect with the different textures in the forest, gently touching the tree bark, moss or leaves, or take a seat beneath the canopy
- Commit a decent amount of time for your forest bathing session. Two hours works best, but feel free to tailor this to your schedule
So, forest bathing shouldn’t feel too far off from your regular leisurely Sunday stroll, it just involves a little bit more solitude and awareness of your surrounds.
Regardless of the style that suits you, we wish you the best of luck on your meditative journey.