Most people follow one of two strategies on summer vacation. The first has them running around trying to hit all the recommended activities before each day runs out, leaving them exhausted. The second is an attempt at total relaxation — perhaps plotzing in a beach chair and moving as few muscles as possible, except for lifting a piña colada to their mouth. This second option often ends in a stupor.
There is, however, a better alternative: a summer vacation where you practice mindfulness. Practitioners say it leaves you feeling alive, aware, and energized, but also calm and relaxed. And when practicing mindfulness on summer vacation, you never need to stow it underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin.
The meaning of mindfulness
The classic definition of mindfulness is “being aware and open in the present moment, without judgment,” says Dina Kaplan, founder and CEO of The Path, an organization that teaches meditation internationally. “By ‘aware,’ we mean aware of what’s going on in our mind and in our surroundings, moment to moment.”
The point is “to channel your best self to manifest the life you desire,” adds certified health administrator and registered yoga teacher Brielle Merchant. “You check in with yourself, assess how you’re feeling in the moment, and ask yourself ‘How would the best version of me feel in this moment?’ Then you find ways to tap into that,” she explains.
So the next time you get away, practice these seven mindfulness techniques and enjoy the most vivid, satisfying summer vacation you’ve ever experienced.
1. Come back to your breath
“Our brains are wired to swirl in thought,” Kaplan says. These thoughts can be negative, “like a bad movie we never ordered playing over and over.” Buddhists call this “the monkey mind.” But mindfulness helps you find an anchor to bring your attention to something real in the present moment and to pull away from negative scripted thoughts.
“The breath is an anchor that’s always there for us. When we focus on our breath, that brings us back to the present moment,” Kaplan adds.
She also recommends anchoring onto something real around you: If you’re on a street in New Orleans, for example, look up at one of the beautiful balconies. “With that, you realize the swirling is just your inner world, and there’s this outer world that is beautiful and safe.”
2. Turn your phone off
By not checking your phone for a few hours, you can really be present with whatever you’re doing throughout your vacation, Kaplan says. If you’re at a museum, allow your full focus to be on the beauty of the art. At the beach? Enjoy feeling the sand under your toes, the temperature and sensations of the water on your ankles. The entertainment is all around you, and, unlike your phone, you can’t take it home with you.
Mindfulness helps us gain the freedom to focus in the present moment on things that are delightful and help us live more at ease.
CEO & Founder
3. Forget the guidebook — be spontaneous, follow your intuition
Guidebooks are out of date, Kaplan points out. “So be open to finding something that will be in the next guidebook.”Walk around with your eyes open. Rather than being stressed about getting to everything on your packed schedule, be open to detours and side trips — you may find a great new place that opened last month. To be even more in the moment, give yourself 20 minutes to an hour just to wander, following your intuition. “Keep an eye out for interesting stores, bars, and restaurants, and if something looks charming, try it.”
4. Build flexibility into your schedule for relaxed playtime
“We’re humans, humans are animals, and animals are meant to be playful,” Kaplan says. “I was looking at bears on our vacation in Alaska, and they were just rolling on the ground playing.” Give yourself time to be playful and to do whatever you want (though rolling around with bears is not recommended…).
5. Be open to meeting new people
Mindfulness is about being open to yourself and others, so don’t be afraid to make eye contact, share a smile, and ask for directions or about interesting things to do. Strike up a conversation. “I’ve met some of my best friends in very unexpected ways on vacation,” Kaplan says. If you chat with the person behind you in line, you might get invited to someone’s house or simply gain deeper insights into that city.
Channel your best self to manifest the life you desire.
Certified health administrator and registered yoga teacher
Well with Brielle
6. Take a walk in the woods
You’d be surprised how much is going on in nature that we normally miss. It’s a feast for the senses. When you’re walking in the woods, pay attention to all your senses. “Be totally present during the walk, immersing yourself in nature,” Merchant explains. “Notice what you see, what you hear, what you smell; notice how fast or slow you’re walking. It will increase your energy, boost your mood, and stimulate your creative thinking.”
7. Practice noting
Kaplan recommends an intense version of this mindful walk called “noting.” “Every few seconds, think ‘What sense is most present for me now?'” Walk a few steps, and note all the beautiful colors around you. Walk a few more, and hear birds singing. Walk a few more, and note how you feel connected or lonely, joyous or sad. “Realize if you’re having thoughts you don’t want to have, once you label them, they just swoop away.”
“Mindfulness,” Kaplan concludes, “helps us gain the freedom to focus in the present moment on things that are delightful and help us live more at ease.” Now, go get packing!