Meditating While Traveling
“What is that girl doing?” asked a little kid to her father. In the middle of the airport he knowingly responded, “she is doing her breathing exercises”.
I have a pretty solid meditation practice. I do a variety of breathing techniques followed by meditation (learn more here). A practice that for about 6-7 years I did every single day. And during that time I also traveled a lot. So, yes, I was that person. You know, the one in a corner breathing weird. For me, the benefits of keeping up a solid meditation practice especially while traveling is worth the all of the funny looks in the airport.
We all know the downsides of travel include less sleep, more stress, irregular eating, body aches and pains, anxiety, and friction with travel partners. Fortunately meditation positively affects all of these travel symptoms. Yes, all of them.
Meditation supports us in relaxing the mind so we are less likely to wake up at night and helps us fall asleep faster. It lowers our stress response and helps alleviate anxiety. Meditation boosts our energy so we are able to deal with unforeseen circumstances and think of creative solutions in tricky situations. Meditation is even beneficial in reducing pain and helping us heal. Read more here.
Another exceptional aspect of meditation is that you do not need anything. Therefore it is possible to do anywhere. I have meditated on buses, planes, cars, and in hostels, hotels, campgrounds, tents, campers, the woods, other people’s’ homes, airports, and even at Burning Man.
If continued while away, it also helps the transition when you get home. You don’t have to start over with creating your practice again, you kept it up all along, so you can seamlessly jump back in at home.
I know for me, I have relaxed my personal rules a bit, to experiment with less rigidity around my practice, and therefore, have not been meditating every single day. I find if I miss one day here or there, it is ok, but more than that I feel heavy, internally dirty (like I haven’t taken out my mental-emotional trash) and discombobulated. And I really experienced this when I went for a long weekend trip to the Indy 500 (a new scene for me!).
During this trip, I didn’t meditate the whole time for whatever reason. That, in combination with a very different lifestyle, I got home and felt so far away from my practice, detached from myself and just plain gross. I couldn’t wait to meditate again, but it was also hard getting back into it. It took me a couple of weeks to feel fully back into the depth of my practice.
Now I know what happens when you go 4 days without meditating!!! (It had been a really long time since I went that long.) And it is not good.
It’s important to take that internal trash out, no matter what.
Although I have had some experience meditating and traveling, I knew that I had to talk to Bill Herman. A full-time traveling meditation teacher. And he was the right person to interview as when I reached out he was in the middle of teaching a multi-day silent meditation retreat in New Jersey and then a few days later when I called he was meditating in a Bahai temple in Chicago.
Bill has been meditating since he was 14. He took it up a notch and learned his mantra when he was 18 after having his heart-broken. About a year into meditating with a mantra he realized the depth and power. He quit all drugs and started his twice-a-day practice and has been going strong since, never even missing a day. He has been traveling and meditating for 47 years now.
Jenna: How have you never missed a day of meditating?
Bill: It is built into my physiology. Part of my existence. My nervous system is so accustomed to experiencing the state of consciousness that is experienced through meditation that I have to do it. It’s like if you missed a night’s sleep, your body and mind would notice and react. It’s the same for me with meditation. I mean, how do you keep breathing? It is a part of who I am. I have no choice.
I also have certain mechanisms built-in to my life to ensure I meditate twice a day. The biggest one is that I do not eat until I meditate. When you eat your body takes hours to digest and it affects the meditation practice. So I know I have to meditate first. And by having this built-in I know I must meditate in the morning before breakfast and in the evening before dinner, no matter what. And I really like to eat, so I’m not just going to not eat. It can get challenging if I am at a wedding or something where the schedule is set and dinner is early, so I just slip out and find a quiet place and close my eyes for a bit.
J: Traveling can be hard in that we do not always have control of schedules, we are out of our routine and in different places. How do you manage to still meditate?
B: I just meditate wherever I am. On the airplane, taxi, park, car, bus, wherever. There is no place I can’t meditate. I mean, its nice to do it in my meditation room, but is not required. Some say do it in a sacred place. And I agree, when possible, but I am not restricted by that.
J: If you are meditating anywhere, how do you manage doing it in a noisy place, like the airport?
B: By accepting the noise and whatever happens.
There are three things my teacher, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says about sitting to meditate:
- I want nothing
- I do nothing
- I am nothing
This means all expectations are out the window. There are no expectations of the experience and how it ‘should’ be. No expectation that the place ‘should’ be quiet or even have a quiet mind. Full acceptance of whatever is happening. Because what we resist in the mind persists. The more we try to get rid of thoughts the more they come.
J: What other tips do you have for us less experienced meditators and keeping it up while traveling?
B: It is all in the mind. Make it a priority. If you make it a priority then you will stick to it no matter what. If you understand how basic it is to go to the source of where you came from and where you will end up just by sitting and closing your eyes then you will have a clear understanding on that deep level. You wont have to force yourself, you will know with clarity why you continue.
Also study why others do it. Some places to start:
- Read Yoga Vasitha
- Talk to other meditators
- Learn from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
And it is worth it to learn properly from an experienced teacher. A teacher that comes from a lineage or tradition that has been teaching meditation for 1,000s of years that you respect. If you learn in this context rather than a book or something, it will be more powerful. Why short-change yourself with something so important. Then you can do it properly and honor it as it deserves to be honored.
“Meditating was the most valuable and impactful choice I have made in my life.” Bill Herman
To learn how you can learn from Bill email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is always traveling, so it is possible he will be coming to your city!
More Tips on How To Keep Meditating While Traveling
Find Your Deep Desire to Meditate.
Find out what is going to push you to meditate, what will inspire you. Could it be that you feel you would be a better parent if you meditated regularly? Or because you feel calm, connected, and joyful with a practice. Perhaps it’s because you feel free when you sit. Maybe it’s because it makes you more clear and efficient. Whatever your reason, find it and remind yourself of ‘your why’ when you realize you are making excuses.
Make Meditating a Commitment.
When we commit to something, there is no choice, no, “should I meditate today, or shouldn’t I?”. It is easier when you make an agreement with yourself that you will do this no matter what. It can help to make a little rule of ‘before I eat breakfast I will do my practice’ (Bill and I both do this) And that’s it. End of story.
Make Yourself Comfortable/ Bring Meditation Reminders.
Bring a meditation shawl. Or the candle you always light. Or even a travelable alter. Because you won’t be able to sit in your meditation “spot” that you may have set up in your home, some people like to have something that is always with them for mediation. I like to have a specific shawl to use (I, personally, don’t want to use hotel bedding.)
Mediate the First Morning You Are Away.
Start strong. If you miss this, it is harder to implement later. Start with this habit. And do not wait for when you have ‘time’ to meditate. You have to make time for it.
So? Get out there and sit. What are you going to let stop you from experiencing the depth of your being?
How do you keep your meditation practice going? What stops you from meditating at home or on-the-go?
Also if you have troubles keeping up habits it could be really helpful to learn about what your specific tendency is for dealing with expectations. This book, The Four Tendencies, really clarified for me what stops me from doing the things I want to do.
Read on, friend…