To some, the idea of meditation can seem daunting, boring, or downright irrelevant.
The concept of sitting still, typically on a small pillow on the floor, with perfect posture for up to an hour might sound like torture to you. But guess what – that is not the only way to meditate. There are far more enjoyable ways to get the mindful benefits of meditation without the monotony of sitting still.
If you’re not yet sold on the benefits of mindfulness, here are 5 ways you can benefit from it directly in your life right now:
- Mindfulness helps improve decision-making by reducing our tendency to ruminate on the past and increasing how quickly we process information.
- Mindfulness increases our ability to feel empathy toward those around us.
- Mindfulness improves our attention span and focus by reducing the ‘mental chatter’ that typically derails our productivity.
- Mindfulness makes us more creative by enhancing our ability to engage in divergent and convergent thinking.
- Mindfulness boosts our mood over time by improving our ability to recall short term memories and store information for later use.
And it is possible to achieve a meditative state simply by focusing on a few key things (no sitting cross-legged on a mat required):
- Breath. As you walk, focus on your breath. You may consider counting your breaths, in-and-out as one, or each inhale as one and exhale as two; increase your counts as your breath strengthens and your body relaxes. Focusing on your breath will help to calm your mind, and while counting is not at all necessary (silence works, too), the beginner meditator can benefit from something small and meaningless on which to focus like counting.
- Body. As you set yourself up for your meditative practice, consider your posture: can energy flow through you? Are you constricted anywhere? Do you feel pain, discomfort, soreness, tightness, or distraction? Set yourself up for success by minding your posture, whether standing, sitting, laying down, or moving vigorously through a hobby. When you start to feel tension; in your face, hands, back, legs, jaw, ears, you know that your body is becoming stressed. Continue to focus on your breath and relax your body by releasing the muscles that are subconsciously tensing.
- Thoughts Meditation does not mean emptying your mind of thoughts. You’re not expected to become a mindless, vacant being – instead, you’re learning to be aware of your thoughts and how they impact you. You may have heard to “let your thoughts rush over you like waves.” It’s a lovely analogy because truly, your thoughts are waves. They crash onto your shore, sometimes completely disrupting the calmness you’d just experienced. You can choose to ride that wave right into the downward spiral of rumination, or you can acknowledge that thought, recognize it for what it is (a thought, not a real person, event, or thing happening at the present moment), and let it pass.
Keep these three elements in your back pocket as you endeavor to establish a meditative habit.
No one is ever a perfect meditator; not when they start and not when they’ve been at it for 50 years. But by picking up a meditative habit that instill mindfulness where there was once stress and tension, you’re setting yourself up for a calmer, more peaceful road ahead.
Now that we’re on the same page that meditation and mindfulness are awesome, we have some more engaging alternatives to help you achieve the same benefits. Don’t feel like zoning out in your calm zone?
Here are 9 ways to achieve a mindful, meditative state while doing an engaging activity.
1. Knitting + Crochet
Knitting and crocheting aren’t just for grandmothers and chunky scarves… in the last 10 years, needlecraft has seen a massively cool revival and you can learn to knit or crochet just about anything on YouTube. With just a pair of needles or hooks and some yarn, you can craft a variety of beautiful beginner projects that will last for decades.
Find a comfy seat, consider putting on some light music or enjoying the outdoor ambiance, and find your first pattern on Ravelry.com.
If any hobby is having a renaissance, it’s embroidery! Stunning flowers on worn denim, beautiful wall art, even employing the craft as a protest are becoming extremely popular in the handmade industry. Whatever subject matter you prefer, the quiet, patient practice of embroidery requires you to sit, breathe, and occasionally count as your design comes to life right before your eyes.
“Plant Lady is the New Cat Lady”
Houseplants have become absurdly popular and it seems like just about anyone, even those with self-prescribed black thumbs, are stocking up on cacti, succulents, and ferns. However, if having a home that looks like Jurassic Park isn’t your style, consider giving edible gardening – on whatever scale you can manage – a try.
Gardening is a slow, steady practice. Patiently watering and feeding a plant that will one day blossom and bear you fruit is a mindful practice with a satisfying destination.
If you’re in a small space, consider a small window garden that holds commonly used herbs:
- Mint, for delicious iced tea and a boost of mental clarity
- Lavender, for a calming scent in your home
- Basil, for fresh pesto and daily cooking
If you have a porch or a large window with direct sunlight, try your hand at a tomato that’s native to your region, or a luscious rosemary bush for air purification and light fragrance.
One of my favorite cooking stories is Julie & Julia, a story about a woman who cooks her way through famed independent cook Julia Child’s book The Joy of Cooking. She not only publishes a viral blog on the subject before blogs were even popular, but the activity (that took an entire year!) taught her how to cook just about everything one could imagine.
If you’re prone to burning toast or if your idea of a complex dinner is rice and beans, you may want to grab a cookbook that inspires you on a simpler scale and try cooking your way through. Don’t aim for perfection. Instead, give yourself space.
Going step by step, and paying close attention to what you are doing — every chop, pour, and mix — will free your mind from stress and help you enjoy not just eating the meal, but the entire journey of preparation.
5. Playing musical instruments
Not all of us have access to a grand piano or a tutor to give us daily lessons, but some musical instruments are definitely easier than others to access and to learn. The process of learning to play an instrument can be frustrating — or calming. As you piece together new chords and enjoy the process of experimenting, you may find your mind lets go of everything but the instrument in front of you.
Here are 3 instruments you can pick up that are relatively easy to make quick progress with (less frustration = better mindfulness), that won’t cost a fortune, and that have tons of YouTube tutorials available to help you grow your skills and get inspired.
- Ukulele. In my experience, at least 50% of the popular songs you know and enjoy are transposed to the ukulele in the same four chords: C, G, Am, F. And, you can pick up a ukulele for under $100.
- Harmonica. The blues are back and the harmonica is still not yet on the “trending instrument” scene. You have the opportunity to be one of the first, and as a lover of the harmonica (and owner of a 12 ‘harp’ set), I can attest to how satisfying it is to wail out to my favorite John Mayer album: Born & Raised.
- Electronic keyboard. You can snap one of these up for around $100, typically accompanied by the necessary chords and software to hook up to your computer and some tablets. The electronic keyboard, typically 49 keys, is compact in size but robust in its ability to create numerous musical expressions depending on the settings you choose.
Writing is not only meditative, it’s therapeutic. You can simply grab a pen and a notebook, pull up a word processor, or go all-out with a vintage typewriter – all of which provide the satisfying mindfulness of freeing your thoughts from your head and putting them down on paper.
Not sure what to write about?
- Try WriteLight.guru, one of my favorite freewriting prompt apps. It’s free, and the prompts range from personal goals to reflections, quotes, and the occasional quip that makes you think, “Should I really?” or “How do I really feel about that?”
- If fiction is more your style, check out one of my favorite prompt books: 642 Things to Write About. My mother did one of these prompts every day for a two years, sometimes two a day, and completely evolved herself as an artist. I’m still working through mine, but patiently creating short blurbs around interesting topics does wonders to calm my racing thoughts.
7. Floral arranging
Floral arranging is having its day and there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a shot. Going for fresh-cut flowers each time can be expensive, so consider visiting your local craft store’s silk flower department for a timeless (and seasonless) array of options.
Designing floral arrangements is reminiscent of the mindful practice of bonsai, in which patient care is given to the development of a beautiful display of flora, and where the quiet meditation of small adjustments and aesthetically satisfying results has a deep impact on the mental state.
A fun twist to add to your floral arranging hobby is to comb the thrift stores in their neighborhood for unique, inexpensive containers in which you display your arrangements.
8. Jigsaw puzzles
Were you into jigsaw puzzles as a kid? They are at once invigorating and mind-numbing, taking careful analysis of each piece, gentle arrangement of sections and groupings for assembly, and trying to keep your limbs from falling asleep as the puzzle-posture is almost never comfortable.
Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to get to know art, geographical locations, and yourself as a mindful individual. The hyper-focused required to complete a jigsaw puzzles leaves a lot of mental space for chatter, rumination, and thought-following.
As you construct your puzzle, remember the three elements of meditation:
- Focus on your breath, ensuring you’re not holding it (stressfully) as you search for that one obscure piece.
- Align your body such that you are unstressed and comfortable, releasing tension periodically as it inevitably arises.
- Allow your thoughts to wash over you like waves, acknowledging their existence but forgoing the tendency to follow them down a destination-less path.
Walking may be the oldest meditative tradition beyond the seated practice. A mindful walk is quite different than the walks we take normally: the hurried trek from train to office, the mindless scrolling-filled morning jaunt with the dog, the distracting sweep through the mall “just browsing.”
Almost every walk we take has a purpose, a distinct destination, and a fully occupied brain that is sometimes so distracted from walking that we miss a step (or our stopping point).
Taking a mindful walk is both difficult and utterly simple. It is difficult because walking mindfully requires us to put our devices away, forgo headphones, and relinquish our natural tendency to ruminate in moments of quiet. Yet, any walk – even the one through the shopping center – can be a meditation, if we focus on the breath, the body, and on relinquishing our need to follow our thoughts.
I couldn’t conclude this list without mentioning the tip top of the mindfulness benefit list: meditation. The kind where you sit, focus on your breath, and allow your mind to relax into a state of awareness. I’m not talking about sitting still like a monk, but rather taking advantage of the myriad of modern tools available at the tip of your fingers.
- Headspace. Headspace is one of my favorite meditation apps. It provides guided meditations as part of its free trial and an expanded library on its paid plan. Their approach to meditation is relatable, and the little illustrations they include that help illustrate mindfulness concepts are adorable!
- Simple Habit. If you’re looking to explore meditation with more voices and perspectives, Simple Habit is what you’re looking for. They offer numerous “tracks” of multiple guided meditation practices and classes by the industry’s top teachers. They offer free and paid options, so you can try and see what you like before you commit.
Whatever meditation practice you choose, mindfulness will bring you the clarity, peace, and enjoyment you’ve been looking for.