If I had a dollar for every time I started and stopped a meditation practice I could buy at least one large green juice from an organic health cafe.
Meditation can be hard. For me and others I know, it definitely is. Read this post by PD writer Holiday on how science proves meditation is hard for the brain. But there are many known benefits of daily meditation that motivate us to keep trying. Sitting in an upright position and focusing on the breath is a common meditative technique, but can be a challenge for those of us who are used to a “go go go” and “think think think” lifestyle.
But we could all probably use the therapeutic benefits right now.
To say the world is currently stressed would be an understatement. As a society we are dealing with a mixed cocktail of stressful events (although of course, impact on individuals varies based on privilege and access to resources). So let’s see. We have rampant COVID-19, police brutality, racial inequity, climate crisis, economic downturn and widespread job instability, selfish, profit-mongering politics—okay, gonna stop myself there before I send both you and I further into a downward spiral.
So yeah, in an ever-evolving world requiring positive change, it can be hard to sit still. I’ve been researching and practicing mediation alternatives that can provide the same benefits, but with achievable implementation. Meditation isn’t just about quieting the mind, it’s about being present. And there are other ways to be present beyond observing our inhales and exhales.
Through focused attention and movement, these mediation alternatives can help us stay present. By focusing on one action and observing without judgement, we can create space between our thoughts and quiet a noisy mind.
The connection between yoga and mindfulness will be no surprise to anyone who has been bombarded with images of bendy limbs and poses in front of idyllic tropical landscapes. But you don’t need access to exclusive retreats to reap the meditative benefits of yoga. I’ve been incorporating breath work into simple body movements like side bends, forward folds, and yes, child’s pose. I really like Yoga by Adrienne’s YouTube channel for free yoga routines.
Studies have found gardening to be both calming and mood-boosting. The acts of planting, weeding, fertilizing, and watering can be grounding, especially when we get our hands in the earth. Time spent gardening is time spent time caring for a little piece of life. It can feel so nurturing to watch that life grow. I currently live in an apartment in the middle of the city, but even pruning, propagating, or re-potting my houseplants makes me feel like I’m connecting to nature.
Like yoga, playing sports can get us into a “flow state.” A flow state, or being “in the zone,” is when there is total connection between your mind and body. In this state you are giving all your attention to the task or activity you’re working on. Flow can happen of course when you’re so enveloped in a passion project and completely forget to eat or drink water. I know this happens to me when I’m writing a blog post I’m super excited about.
My favorite sport to get me in the flow state is frisbee. When I’m playing, there is only thing my mind needs to focus on: that flying white disc in the air. All other thoughts about work, deadlines, or relationships melt away. But the same flow can be achieved through juggling a soccer ball or hitting the golf range. In my running career, I struggled on long runs where my mind was swirling with anxious thoughts. While running it was easy for me to get caught up in my mind, but this isn’t the case for everyone. Find a sport where it’s easy for you to be present.
Watch this Ted Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to learn more about the flow state.
Walking outside and forest bathing
Take a walk outside and notice the world around you. Focus on one step at a time instead of counting down to your destination. Walk, observe, and allow thoughts to come and go without judgment. Become part of your surroundings, instead of analyzing them.
Immersion in nature can be very meditative. Especially when we practice focusing on placing one foot in front of another, the sound of a nearby stream, or the path of a falling leaf.
Read PD writer Audrey’s post sharing the benefits of forest bathing.
All right, this last meditation alternative has got to be my favorite. Have you ever gone to a park and watched birds hop from branch to branch? Or squirrels climbing the bark of a tree? Maybe you’ve observed dogs playing together or your cat sunbathing in the sun? I’ve personally found this practice to be especially calming.
I’m very inspired by spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle who teaches Being, a practice that focuses on bringing presence to as much of our lives as possible. In his book Stillness Speaks Eckhart writes, “We have forgotten what rocks, plants, and animals still know. We have forgotten how to be—to be still, to be ourselves, to be where life is: Here and Now.”
Animals live in the present moment. They don’t experience chronic anxiety or question themselves. They accept who they are and the bodies they’re in. It is for these reasons they can be our teachers. Observing animals in their constant state of presence can transfer to us as we watch them love joyfully and not take life too seriously.
Meet Nali and Bella, two of my greatest spiritual teachers:
What is your favorite way to meditate?
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Photo: Simon Rae on Unsplash; Lindsay Brave