Summer is when the earth’s 23.5° tilt is closest to the sun. The days become longer and hotter and many of us choose to take a break and go on holiday to take time off, travel, relax and re-charge. Until relatively recently, travelling abroad was a luxury that only the wealthy could afford. Now many of us travel abroad, or to other parts of the country, to take a break. The word “holiday” originated from holy days that were taken as part of religious practice. The US term “vacation” was first used in UK law courts to refer to the long summer break and can be traced back to William the Conqueror.
With more virtual ways of working and access to mobile devices, it’s becoming normal for people to not completely disconnect from work when on holiday; responding to emails and keeping on top of things while away. So rather than properly relaxing and unwinding, there’s no escape from the busyness and stress. Luckily, many organisations are now recognising that people are not machines and perform much better when given proper breaks and extended time away from the workplace. Research shows that even six days away from the workplace can reduce stress and boost the immune system. The same research found that longer breaks that include meditation increase the health benefits.
When we reflect on some of the best holiday moments, some may be about the pleasure and fun we had; sharing the experience with loved ones; the surprising flavours of different cuisines; feeling alive while we watch the sun slowly set over the sea. It’s interesting that most of these memories involve the senses or are about the quality of the experience; being more open, aware and appreciative of present-moment experience, which is what practising mindfulness is all about.
One useful thing about mindfulness is that’s it’s always with you. Although sometimes we simply forget to turn up; we’re lost in thought, pre-living and re-living our experience in our heads, which disconnects us from the present moment.
When you’re on holiday there are a range of things you can do to amplify the benefits, as well as find a little bit of peace and connection. Here are some suggestions:
Morning sitting practice
See if you can discipline yourself to schedule a sitting meditation each morning, maybe finding somewhere outside where you can sit for 10-30 minutes where you will not be disturbed. Maybe setting a meditation timer on your smartphone (e.g. Insight Timer), or downloading some guided practices from the Mindful Call site, if that’s useful.
- Bring yourself into a dignified and upright yet comfortable posture. Then close your eyes.
- Bring your attention into this moment and do a quick scan of your body, then your emotions and thoughts, acknowledging what’s already there and releasing any tensions you find, if you can.
- Then bring the focus of your attention to your breath. Where the breath enters the nostrils is a good place, around the tip of the nose. See if you can stay with the breath, like listening to the sound of the ocean waves lapping against the shore. If you find that you wander off in thought, notice where your attention went, then gently bring it back to the breath.
- Once you have started to feel settled, extend your awareness to take in your body on the chair, the surroundings you are in, the sounds that are near then sounds in the distance.
- See if you can rest in the stillness and silence underneath the sounds and movement; really appreciating this special moment; full of gratitude; feeling fully alive, energised and connected.
See if you can eat one piece of fruit mindfully each day. This is a lot easier than attempting a whole mindful meal. Pick something exotic like a fresh apricot or fig if you can.
- Start with looking at the fruit, with a beginner’s mind as if you have never seen one before. Have a good look at the detail on its skin, texture, colours, the way light is reflected, its shape, weight, softness or hardness.
- Appreciate how it has grown on a tree, noticing where it was connected to a branch.
- Then cut it open and appreciate the subtle aroma. Cut a small piece and place it on your tongue and close your mouth.
- Without chewing, what are the sensations?
- Then slowly chew on the fruit and see what you notice – not just the taste and texture but how your body is responding.
- Then continue eating mindfully until it’s finished.
This one’s best outside in the natural world, but you can do this anywhere, even on a busy city street. All you need to do is to bring yourself into the moment and connect with your body and senses.
- When you notice that you have gone off in thought, acknowledge what happened and bring your attention back to the physical sensations of walking.
- As you walk, expand your listening to take in and enjoy the stereo soundscape. Notice how your body does all of the work for you.
- Notice the details of what’s around you. For instance, have a look at the detail on a leaf, or appreciate the subtle fragrance of a flower.
- One tip is to really use your eyes – bring a sense of alert energy and attention almost powering out of your eyeballs.
- If you’re walking on a street, notice the people who are walking towards you, seeing them with compassion, as complex human beings with a complex inner life just like yourself.
- Another tip is to play a game to see how many steps you can take without being distracted by thought. In this game it’s okay to notice a thought; it’s going off into extended mind-wandering that you want to avoid.
- As you walk along, see if you can really appreciate the sense of physical aliveness and vitality as well as the rich intensity of your own experience.
These practices will help any holiday become a richer and more fulfilling experience that brings greater mindfulness into your day. So hopefully, when you return to work you feel revitalised and ready for the challenges ahead.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second one where you’re invited to visualise and re-experience a peaceful and tranquil time on holiday, feeling open, connected and relaxed
Suggested weekly practice
- Start each day with some light exercise, followed by a morning meditation outside if you can. During the meditation, bring your awareness to the body and breath, simply noting where your attention goes. For instance: tingling on soles of feet, birdsong, in-breath, thinking, warmth on face, etc.
- Take the time to relax and release any stress and agitation, intentionally letting go of any held tension in your body, as well as connecting into and releasing any held feelings, that built up before the holiday.
- Make the most of your time away from busy work activities to find peace and stillness and reflect on the meaningful things in your life with appreciation and gratitude.
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