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Remote wanderlust: A guide to meditation traditions from around the world

The word ‘meditation’ derives from the Latin word for ‘a thinking over.’ We’re borrowing a few ideas on how to do just that…

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Our guide to meditation around the world.
Our guide to meditation around the world.

In our new Remote Wanderlust series, we're exploring ways to travel the world from your home.

The English word ‘meditation’ derives from the Latin word “meditationem” which means “a thinking over.” We’re looking at cultures around the world that have cultivated and pioneered the art of thinking over throughout history.

India and China: Zazen

The technique of Zazen is deeply rooted in Buddhist psychology.
The technique of Zazen is deeply rooted in Buddhist psychology.

Zazen, also known widely as zen meditation or seated meditation, is a meditative technique deeply rooted in Buddhist psychology.

History

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 on top of a mat, freeing their minds of unnecessary thought, including judgmental attitudes. The inhalation and exhalation of breath are closely observed. In traditional Zen temples, those practising 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 and 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 just find it helps in the bedroom.

History

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 rest. This approach was required to ensure pilots were well-rested and less likely to make critical errors during flights and combat.

After several trials, it was found that 96% of pilots were able to drift off in under two minutes, using the technique. This didn’t happen overnight, though. The test subjects were found to have achieved better sleep after six consistent weeks of practice.

How to do it

  1. 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
  2. Completely relax your face - breathe slowly and deeply, shut your eyes and relax your forehead, cheeks, tongue and jaw
  3. Release tension in your shoulders - drop them as low as is comfortable.
  4. Exhale and relax your chest and legs - consciously relax your legs from top to bottom, imagine these are sinking into the bed
  5. Clear your mind - for 10 seconds, rid your mind of excess thoughts. Visualise yourself in a calm location and pay close attention to your breath

If you're looking to incorporate this method into your sleep routine, it helps to be consistent. Begin practising during a week when you don't have a packed schedule and have fewer distractions during your day.

Japan: Forest bathing

Give the art of forest bathing a try.
Give the art of forest bathing a try.

Here’s one for the nature-lovers. Before we begin, no, forest bathing doesn’t involve 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 seeking a more active, sensory approach to meditation - one that doesn't require you to simply sit still.

History

Forest bathing is a modern concept, 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 it, the Japanese government incorporated it into the national health program.

How to do it

  1. Head to a quiet woodland 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
  2. Consciously appreciate the natural surroundings 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
  3. Deeply breathe in the clean forest air
  4. Physically connect with the different textures in the forest, gently touching tree bark, moss or leaves, or even take a seat beneath the canopy
  5. Commit time for your forest bathing session. Two hours work best, but feel free to tailor this to your schedule

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 surroundings. Regardless of the style that suits you, we wish you the best of luck on your meditative journey.

Serena is a writer based in London. Born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, she calls the UK home despite only recently acclimatising to the dearth of sunshine. Her writing has appeared in The Independent, Business Insider, South China Morning Post, i-D, Refinery29, Glamour, Vox, Metro, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan. She has also published a book of aerial photography: How Women See The World. Throughout her decade-long career, Serena has told the stories of Arctic explorers, human rights activists, award-winning chefs, refugees, and the UK’s last lighthouse keepers.

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