8 Ways to Zen Out on the Road

·Associate Travel Editor
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The meditation room at Unplug in Los Angeles. (Photo: Mark Leibowitz)

By Greg Keraghosian

Many seek out Zen as a destination, but what if you have someplace else to go? And you’re delayed for hours in an overcrowded airport terminal? Then your kid is screaming in your ear? If travel is governed by any law, it is Murphy’s.

We’ve found some simple, practical ways to de-stress on the road that won’t cost much, if anything. While Zen and Buddhism are often intertwined, there are also more modern, secular ways to meditate—from a public studio to an app to your gridlocked car:

1. Go to a meditation studio or Zen center: Suze Yalof is one of those people who found meditation “on a whim.” Now she is bringing it to the masses. The former executive fashion editor at large for Glamour, she had a hard time finding a convenient meditation class that wouldn’t take up her whole day after she moved to Los Angeles.

So she went ahead and created a studio of her own: Unplug Meditation, which just opened in Los Angeles on April 15. Yalof calls it a place for “guided, Americanized meditation” that’s simple enough for a first-timer. Classes are scheduled throughout the day, run from 30 to 45 minutes and cost $20 each.  

There are also Zen centers across the country—you can find a list of them here. I’ve been to the San Francisco Zen Center several times, and while it’s a Buddhist environment, I found it very welcoming to non-Buddhists and I was never pressured to join or contribute money. These centers offer free meditation classes at certain times of the week.

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Meditating with Headspace. (Courtesy: Westin)

2. Use a meditation app: While it may seem counterintuitive to seek Zen on a cell phone—the very device that often shovels more stress into our lives—there are some products that take advantage of phones’ portability to help you chill out wherever you are.

Headspace is a great example. From either your phone or desktop, you can take a 10-minute timeout with a different guided meditation every day. The app is founded by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk, though the program is designed to be secular and accessible to anyone. There’s a free 10-day, 10-meditation trial, and after that membership is about $7 a month. You can also find Headspace on Virgin America flights—it’s the Yin to the Yang of their high-caffeine safety video.

Another app is Dream Weaver, backed by famous meditation advocate Deepak Chopra. It takes a more scientific and spiritual route than Headspace: a “light-and-sound program” combines the LED lights on your phone with soothing sounds and voices. The objective is to alter your brain waves to put you in a trance-like state within 23 minutes. The price to download this nirvana is $14.99.

3. Use a hotel’s meditation program: Some hotels are offering travelers more than gyms to stay well. The Westin chain recently announced a partnership with Headspace, including nine guided-meditation programs. Guests can access the video and audio programs through the Westin site.

For a more exotic experience, you can stay at a place like the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Phulay Bay, Thailand. It offers private one-hour meditation walks along the shore with a Buddhist Monk from the nearby Tiger Cave Temple.

4. Walk around the city: The less you know the city, the better. Getting lost on the street can be a great way to live in the moment. Chopra is a big advocate of this one: “When I travel, whenever I go, I walk the city early in the morning,” he told Yahoo Travel last year. “I don’t remember the last time I took a cab.”

5. Massage your temples: “Take your chin and put it to your neck,” Yalof advises. “Take your fingers and rub your temples in a circular mention. Try that for 10 seconds and tell me you don’t feel anything.” After trying it myself, I can say she was right.

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Meditation room at Albuquerque International. (Courtesy: cabq.gov)

6. Meditation/yoga rooms at airports: Getting bumped from a flight doesn’t have to be all bad. At Raleigh-Durham International and at Albuquerque International airports, you can find dedicated meditation rooms. Raleigh’s is open 24 hours. You can also find yoga studios at the San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare, and Dallas-Fort Worth airports. As an added bonus at SFO, you can say hello to the “wag brigade" of calming dogs roaming the airport.

7. Try loving/kindness meditation with the person annoying you: Yalof likes this one for when you’re stuck in traffic: “You go through some phrases that become your focal point. You can look at the person driving you crazy in front of you and wish them well. And that changes your whole mood, and it can change your whole life.”

8. Talk to the stranger next to you: While this can be painfully stressful for some, I’ve felt the benefits of this on many a weary trip. As Ron Burgundy might say, it’s science: having a brief, warm exchange with that person on the plane or at the bar raises our oxytocin levels, which helps us feel connected to the world. It’s hard to get more Zen than that.