Tag Archive for: meditate

meditating beach

Photo by Zoe Kerslake

You’ve heard about meditation and have an idea about all the apparent benefits, but you’re not sure exactly how it works and if its really worth doing. I’ve been meditating for a few years now and credit it with lots of positive changes in my mindset and life, so I wanted to share how it might help you too.

Science Backed

Research shows tonnes of benefits to consistent meditators – studies at Harvard have shown that regular meditators grow grey matter in key areas of the brain associated with self-awareness and compassion, and shrink matter in the areas associated with stress. Yes, meditation actually changes the physical structure of the brain. The stereotype that meditation is just for buddhists and hippies is dying and thats why its drawing in people from all sorts of high profile arenas, from professional athletes to workers at google. This is because it can benefit people from all walks of life.

“Suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. Would you take it? Suppose further that the pill has a great variety of side effects, all of them good: increased self-esteem, empathy, and trust; it even improves memory. Suppose, finally, that the pill is all natural and costs nothing. Now would you take it?
The pill exists. It’s called meditation.”
Jonathan Haidt – The Happiness Hypothesis

Sounds to good to be true right? Well, here’s the kicker- it requires patience, commitment, time and practice. But so does anything that is truly worthwhile. A crucial foundation when embarking on any new journey of learning or discovery is motivation. With more and more research being done it’s becoming clearer by the study that meditation offers numerous benefits to the consistent practitioner. So here’s a few examples to kickstart that motivation and get you keen to start meditating…

Be More Present

The past is already gone and the future never comes – the truth is that the present moment is all we ever really have. If you spend all your time in thoughts of the past or future you will miss the amazing world we live in. Meditation is the practice of tuning in to the present, leaving thoughts of past and future behind – being aware and in the moment and really alive. This is powerful in many ways, not least of which is how it helps to clear your mind which as well as being rewarding in itself will…

Improve Your Focus and Concentration

Being able to focus your mind is one of the most powerful tools you can have at your disposal. Meditation is a continual practice of retaining your attention and sharpening single pointed concentration. When you meditate you practice being conscious of your thoughts and where your mind is, and when you realise it isn’t where you would like it… you bring it back. A formal practice trains this awareness ‘muscle’ and with it comes a greater capacity for focus and attention.

It improves not only performance but efficiency too. And this can be applied to anything, to whatever it is you want to put your energy into. You will be more precise and able to work with less distraction and greater proficiency. You will upgrade in everything that you do. With increased efficiency you will save time. Less time spent in useless and unproductive thoughts and more time for you to think about what you actually want to think about. Less time spent procrastinating and more time doing what you actually want to do. Less actions through habit and more through conscious will.

Less Stress, Fewer Worries

Meditation triggers what psychologists call the ‘relaxation response’ which lessens stress and hypertension. This is because it trains us to let go by calmly observing our current reality without reaction or resistance. Rather than getting wound up or agitated, meditation helps us to accept the reality of any situation. In meditation we practice accepting things we cannot change and this helps to stop us from worrying unnecessarily.

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is someone whom I suspect has clocked up his fair share of meditation time. Of course we can understand intellectually that worrying is not helpful but we all still have times when we do it. Meditation as a practice helps us to embody this understanding and to accept the unexpected and sometimes undesirable twists and turns as an inevitable part of life, rather than resisting them and creating stress and tension. We observe our thoughts and feelings and learn to let them pass. As we become more conscious of our anxieties and troublesome thoughts we have more ownership of them and are less affected by them. Meditators find it easier to relax, they’re practiced at it.

nature, landscape, mountains, summit, peak, slope, grass, trees, sky, clouds, view, man, woman, people, hammock, leisure, relax

Gain a Greater Understanding of Yourself

So often we think something and we are that thought. We don’t recognise it as a thought, we just think it before thinking something else and continuing in a series of thoughts. These thoughts grow into opinions and inform our actions. They form the basis of our belief system and define our truths. They shape who we are.

With meditation we learn to observe thoughts and see them from a greater perspective. This increases awareness and clarity of the mind’s habits and thought patterns; what occupies your mind and how you think. In this way meditation gives you the opportunity to know yourself better and also to gain insight into why you are the way you are.

With an improved self-awareness you’ll have a clearer perception of your strengths and weaknesses, your personality and your emotions. A clearer perception of your strengths allows you to use them more effectively and the ability to be honest with yourself about your shortcomings reveals room for growth. With a clearer understanding of the unique traits of your personality you will become more aware of how other people perceive you, and of how you perceive others. Relationships will improve and social situations will feel more natural, whether it’s meeting new people, making friends or collaborating with others in creative pursuits and business ventures.

Improve Your Health

Meditation doesn’t only improve mental health but physical health too. Enjoy being healthy? Another reason to start meditating. Your body’s response to potential illness improves with meditation: it boosts antibodies, stimulates immune system brain-function regions and with its reduction of stress increases oxygen uptake and blood flow. This is why meditators take less sick days and why meditation is now being prescribed as a preventative medicine for all kinds of ailments. It boosts your immune system. Research has linked meditation with a long list of health benefits and this shouldn’t really be surprising given the link between physical and mental health and the correlation between stress and sickness.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

These are just a few of the benefits meditation can offer; if you’re still hungry for more there’s a heap of literature online about the topic… go dive in. Hopefully by now you’re ready to set up the pillows on the floor. It’s something I think anyone can benefit from. In twenty years I reckon it will become like how eating vegetables, exercising and brushing your teeth are today; a complete no-brainer. So get on your ass and start the habit today.

Have no idea how to meditate or where to start? Head over to How to Meditate: A Beginner’s Guide.

Isabell Winter

When I first started meditating, I kept it up as a daily habit pretty darn well. There was however, one major exception: when I was travelling. Though travel and meditation are two key parts of my life, they haven’t always been so compatible.

Isabell Winter

Photo by Isabell Winter

When settled in one place it’s not too hard to allocate a spot in your home and routine and keep a daily practice. Life on the road is a different story. Days can vary massively and finding time to meditate isn’t always a priority. You want to go out, explore, see the city, hike a mountain, socialise with others. Sitting down with your eyes closed isn’t always top of the list. On top of that, if you’re sharing a room and have no private space, it can seem unrealistic.

Knowing that the fruits of meditation come with consistent rather than sporadic practice I realised I needed to find ways to make sure I got my practice while on the road. With a few fixes, I’m happy to report I managed it. Whether you’re planning a trip and want to keep up your practice, or already on the road and struggling to find time to meditate, these tips can help.

Go to Churches and Temples

Churches and temples are often some of the most beautiful and culturally significant buildings to be found in a city. Not only are they in every city but they are perfect for meditation; they are peaceful and have places to sit or kneel without distraction. By their nature they are places where people will leave you be to sit quietly with your eyes closed – they are built for spiritual practice. Wherever you are you will find an edifice of the local spiritual tradition and these are ideal places to meditate. I’ve meditated in impeccable Zen temples across Japan, the grand sanctuary at Lourdes, and rustic Taoist street shrines in Taiwan.

zen rock garden japan

Rock garden at one of Daitoku-ji’s sub temples, Kyoto. Great spot for meditation.

Remember, it doesn’t always need to be a grand place; the smaller, lesser known places are always quieter and it makes a nice change. When I arrive in a new place, I find out where the closest church or temple is to where I am staying and often I find a local spot a short walk away to meditate everyday. I like to visit in the morning on the way out to start my day, but of course it’s possible to pop in on the way home from a day out or at any place you may happen to pass during the day. It’s a nice way to see the local neighbourhood and a more typical place of worship too. Go, take in the architecture and the history, and then pop yourself down for some zazen.

Parks & Nature

However much of a metropolis you may find yourself in you’ll be able to find a park in the city. The atmosphere in a park often lends itself to slowing down and relaxing. Take a stroll and do a walking meditation. If you have nice weather, sit on the grass or Buddha it and sit beneath a tree. If you are out for a picnic, take a minute before you eat to be present. If you are out on a hike or exploring a national park, choose a stretch of the walk to slow down for walking meditation. Choose a distance or an amount of time and allocate it to meditation.

japgardenBA (2).jpg

The Japanese Garden in Buenos Aires


Bus stops, train stations, airports, queues… wherever it is, there is always time spent waiting when you are travelling. Perfect time to meditate. Depending on where you are in the world, there may be a dedicated room for prayer or worship. If not, just try to find a relatively quiet place where you can relax and find your anchor. I set a timer, put my headphones in, close my eyes, then meditate. A pair of headphones allows me to hear the bells (I use a meditation timer app on my phone) and people passing by just assume I’m listening to music.

If I’m not familiar with the transport in the city or the exact whereabouts of where I need to be I will usually aim to arrive an hour early for an important bus or train ride. Often it turns out to be very simple and I end up with an hour spare. I always use this opportunity to meditate. It’s a large enough chunk of time to get seated and settled, and it’s time that’d just be spend waiting in a bus station – hardly the most thrilling part of travel adventures.

Watch Sunrise, Sunset, or the Night Sky

Sunrise from Huangshan (Yellow mountain), China.

This is one that will hopefully naturally sync with your routine. It often seems to be the case that travellers catch sunrises and sunsets far more frequently than those not travelling. It’s a real treat to view the colours at sunset, especially from a scenic viewpoint over mountains, or overlooking a new city, and it naturally coerces meditation.

Use the Hard Times as Opportunities

When you travel, as in life, things go wrong and you feel stressed or anxious. It’s unavoidable. In unfamiliar surroundings with little knowledge of local customs and language, far from family and friends, these feelings can be greatly heightened. Whether it’s a missed train, a lost wallet or your first time walking through a neighbourhood of which you aren’t entirely sure of the safety level… you will feel some kind of tension. And these are actually fantastic times to practice mindfulness. These are the times when we can really benefit from a clear and calm mind and a few deep breaths to calm down. In these situations I return to my breath. You needn’t try to repress whatever you are feeling but you needn’t allow it to overwhelm and consume you either. When you become aware of the unpleasant feelings or emotions bubbling up, just calmly observe them. Go to your breath or your anchor of choice and stay with it for a couple of minutes. You will slow down and your thoughts will become more clear. If a decision then needs to be made regarding your misfortune you will be in a much better state of mind to do so.

Communicate with Travel Buddies

If you are travelling with someone else, let them know that you are a meditator and want to keep up your meditation practice. Ideally they will be interested and want to meditate with you. This will make everything easier and you will even probably be more likely to make time to meditate now that you have a meditation partner. I travelled with a good friend before and he often even suggested times for us to meditate – perfect. If they aren’t a meditator then hopefully they will at least be understanding and happy to amuse themselves while you sit quietly. Or you can always wake up 20 minutes before them, or sleep a little later.

Still not meditating? See the final tips…

Allocate Unavoidable Spots in Your Routine For Mindfulness

It might not always be possible to have a regular dedicated formal sitting practice, and this is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is basically meditation in a non-formal setting and regardless of your vagabonding lifestyle there are certain things that you will always do that can be used as exercises in mindfulness. While mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and anytime, it will be much easier in the beginning to practice during activities that are done alone and that can be done slowly- taking a shower, brushing your teeth, eating. Choose one or two of these, and every time you do that particular activity, make it an exercise in mindfulness, a mini-meditation if you will.

One I like to use is the ‘shower meditation’. Showering is an opportune time because it is a time you will be alone anyway, and something you do everyday (or atleast regularly, I hope). When showering, feel the splash of the water against your skin, the temperature, the pressure of the water. Be there in the shower and not somewhere else thinking, planning or worrying about the past or future. Be in that moment. When you realise you are thinking of something and your mind is elsewhere simply do as you would do in a meditation and bring yourself back to the present, back to the shower, the water, the sensation. When you turn the shower off take a few moments for conscious breathing while you drip dry, then feel the texture of your towel against your skin as you dry yourself.

Mindfulness really can be extended to anything. Just like meditation, it is the practice of choosing one thing, your anchor, and being totally conscious of it. Every time you notice your mind has wandered off, calmly bring it back. Simply do as you would do with a sitting meditation, but rather than using your breath or mantra as an anchor you will use the activity you are doing. Focus on the thing that you are doing, keeping your attention in the present moment and not getting swept up in unrelated thoughts.

Just Practice! However, Whenever.

As true as it is that a formal seated meditation in silence is the best foundation for day to day mindfulness, it might not always be possible to find a place where you can sit with perfect posture and without distraction, let alone time alone. In which case just practice wherever and however you can. If you haven’t meditated for a couple days and find yourself on a long distance bus journey then meditate there – sure it might not be the ideal environment- you mightn’t be able to sit upright with perfect posture and there may be a few bumps on the drive, but it’s still practice and is far far better than nothing.

If I come to the end of the day and I haven’t meditated I’ll ‘meditate myself to sleep’. I’ll lie flat on my back in bed, relax every muscle in my body and do one of two meditations; centre on my breath, or, focus on the feeling of the weight of my body on the bed. If you’ve ever done a yoga class then it’s similar to the savasana (corpse pose) usually done at the end. It’s great to use if you have problems sleeping.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Integrating meditation into your daily life is crucial to cementing the habit, and cementing the habit is crucial to becoming more mindful day by day.  It can be a challenge when on the road but there are always opportunities.

So that’s it, go – hit the open road, explore, adventure…. and meditate along the way.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 
Recommended Read:

One of my favourite reads with great examples of how to integrate mindfulness into your life is Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. I first read it lying in a beach hammock in Thailand and have been more mindful for it ever since, both on and off the road. Full of wisdom and with a beautifully calming style, Nhat Hanh outlines techniques on how to live mindfully and gives examples of mini-meditations and exercises in mindfulness in daily life. I recommend it to anyone who is short of time to meditate and wants to live more mindfully.

temple stay meditation korea

You’ve realised that meditation really might change your life, but have no idea how to do it or where to begin. You’re in the right place, this is a short guide to help get you started and tell you what you should actually be doing when you’re sat with your eyes closed… Read more