Regular travel can start to take a toll on both your physical and mental health.
To help reduce the side effects of long journeys and constant travelling, I’ve shared my favourite rituals that can be done anytime and anywhere to decrease stress, improve sleep, increase energy and keep you balanced while on the move.
While you can’t be expected to do yoga in the airport or start chanting on a plane, you can always find a corner to close your eyes and turn inward for a moment, requiring nothing but the power of your mind and breath.
It really is as easy as that.
Sensory meditation - to ground and arrive
A simple meditative technique to reduce stress, align concentration and balance emotions is to use your senses to redirect your attention.
This is a versatile practice, and will be different almost every time you practise it, because it is likely that scents, sights and noises will change from one day to the next. Use this technique when you find it particularly hard to focus, or feel overwhelmed with challenging thoughts, either first thing in the morning or just before starting work, to shift and reset your focus.
Sensory awareness meditation may be more powerful in an unfamiliar setting, so if you can, try to change your place of practice from time to time. It is best to practise with your eyes closed, as your senses may be influenced by things you see or you may find it hard to focus on senses other than sight if there are many visual distractions.
1. Find a comfortable seated position and rest your hands on your knees, in your lap or by your side.
2. With eyes closed, bring your awareness to the rhythm of your breath. Notice how each inhalation and exhalation feels and notice where in the body you can feel the breath most. Breathe naturally with your attention on your breath until you come to a steady and comfortable breath.
3. Begin to bring your awareness to each of your five senses. Focus on one sense at a time, noticing how it feels and how it is stimulated in the present moment. Start with whichever sense naturally grabs your attention.
Hearing will likely catch your attention first. Notice the sounds within or around you, without judgement or hostility. They may be the sounds of your own breathing or internal movements. They may be sounds made by others close by or far way, by people you know or don’t know. They may be familiar or unfamiliar sounds. They may be clear or indistinguishable. Sit for a few minutes, acknowledging and accepting the sounds around you, and if any thoughts arise, simply use the sounds around you to refocus the breath.
If you find your attention drifting persistently, turn your focus to another sensation. Notice any smells around you, near or far, faint or pungent. Maybe you’ve lit a candle or applied some fragrance to yourself or the space around you. Maybe you smell food or plants, fresh washing or smoke. If a smell brings negative thoughts, turn your attention to more positive smells around you.
Perhaps the taste in your mouth becomes noticeable, next. Maybe there is a sight aftertaste from your last meal, or from smoking or brushing your teeth. If you don’t smoke and/or haven’t yet eaten, notice the inside of your mouth and how your tongue feels. Is it heavy or light? Is it soft or rough? How does it feel to move it slowly around the mouth? This may bring your attention to touch. How do things feel? How do your hands feel where they are resting, and what are they resting on? If rested on your body, do they feel warm or can you feel the warmth of your body beneath them? If on the floor or furniture, how does it feel? Is it cold? Is it soft or rigid? Are you comfortable? Notice the connection between your sitting bones and where you are sat. Do you feel rooted and supported by the earth beneath? Is the rest of your body comfortable in this pose? How do your clothes feel against your skin? If you want, you can even feel around you, resting your hands on any objects they fall upon and considering what they might be.
Maybe this will bring your attention to your sight. Blink your eyes open gently, take in your surroundings, noticing objects, shapes, colours, materials and light. Gradually trace the room, resting on things that catch your attention, and then pause, noticing how you feel after the exercise. Close your eyes again and close the practice with a few deep breaths.
Body scan - to calm and relax
Body scanning is an easy mindfulness exercise to relax the body, calm the mind and shift attention away from overpowering thoughts. It involves relaxing each part of the body by focusing on it for a few moments. Practising this meditation in the evening is ideal as it is best performed lying down, encouraging the body and mind to transition from “doing” to “being”.
1. Lie on your back on a comfortable surface with your legs slightly apart and your arms by your sides. If you are not in bed, place a blanket over your body if you tend to get cold easily.
2. Focus on the breath and notice any thoughts or feelings that arise. When they do, try to turn your attention back to your breath and how it feels moving through the body.
3. Start by focusing your attention on the toes on your right foot. Be aware of how they feel and gradually move your attention up the right side of your body right up to your head, before continuing down the other side.
4. Settle here and notice how your body feels, both part by part and as a whole, and notice how your mind now feels.
Breath of Fire breathing exercise - to energise
This exercise is used for internal purification. It tones and cleanses the respiratory system by encouraging the release of toxins, and is intended to make you feel lighter in your body and mind. It involves short, sharp exhalations and passive inhalations, or vice versa. This is quite an advanced practice so familiarise yourself with other techniques before this one.
1. Inhale deeply and then forcefully exhale to drive all the air out of the lungs and stomach.
2. Take another full inhale, and then begin to exhale forcefully through the nose. Try to start with 6–10 short, sharp exhalations, without taking an inhale (slight inhalation will occur passively). With each short exhale, draw the belly inwards, engaging and tucking the abdomen in and up towards your ribs.
3. After you’ve completed a full cycle, inhale and exhale fully for a few breaths, before repeating a few more rounds. I like to do around 3–5 rounds.
4. To close the practice, settle in your seated position and return to a natural, effortless breath.
Self massage for neck and shoulders - to improve circulation and reduce tension
This simple massage sequence is so simple yet so powerful. I do this anytime I travel, to reduce tension in my neck and shoulders, especially after long flights.
1. Stand tall and relax your shoulders down your back, elongating the neck.
2. Support your forehead by resting it in the palm of your left hand and then let the head tip slightly forwards. Using the edge of your right hand (along your little finger to where your hand joins the wrist), use a gentle chopping motion to lightly tap up the base of the skull. Stay in this vicinity, working around the base of the skull and top of the neck. If tapping is too much, use sawing motions to release tension at the base of the skull and in the neck. Do this for about 1–2 minutes.
3. Return to standing and slightly tip your head back. Take your hands to your head with thumbs just under the ears, palms on the side of your cheeks and fingers along the sides of your face, fingertips on the temples (as if you were going to lean on a table with your head supported in your hands).
4. Then, use the pads of your thumbs to work around the base of the skull, pressing and massaging the area with however much pressure feels right (you will just know). Move your hands passively, however feels comfortable, and work inwardly with the thumbs from behind the ears towards the spine. Work for about 2 minutes, and feel free to use the thumbs at other points in the skull that feel tight, such as above the ears or the temples.
Journaling - to unwind and focus
Journaling is something I love to do anytime, but whilst travelling, especially travelling alone, I love to make time for it to jot down thoughts that come up. Usually, when I'm abroad or travelling alone, I am in a really calm state and love exploring new places which helps to switch off my mind. I find some of my more inspiring thoughts and ideas come to me in this state, and so spending a little time journaling is really useful. It can also be used if you are feeling stuck, lost or a little lonely, to let go of thoughts and any negativity and try to understand it more.
Another option is to practice stream of consciousness in your journal, as another meditation option, which involves simply writing as soon as you wake up, with no agenda or really topic in mind. this helps to clear the mind and enhances energy and concentration for the rest of the day.