While I know that meditation is good for the mind, body, and soul, I just… hate it. My brain–which I’ve recently discovered is a non-neurotypical one–simply runs around like a toddler on the beach, picking up shiny seashells, poking weird things with a stick, and singing “Baby Shark” at the top of its lungs.
However, my long-standing hatred of meditation is probably because I kept trying to do it the same way. I sat quietly and willed my mind to still. Although Andy Puddicombe of Headspace fame reminded me to allow thoughts to pass without engaging with them, I never felt like the practice clicked for me.
If you’ve had a similar experience with meditation, there’s good news. We have options!
The advice to “just breathe” might seem less than helpful in a stressful situation. But there’s science-backed evidence that deep, slow breathing can help reset the “fight or flight” mechanism in the brain.
One way we tend to get it wrong, however, is by trying to match the length of the inhale and the exhale. It’s actually more helpful to inhale quickly (yet deeply), and then let your breath out very slowly. Focus on the movement of air as it fills your lungs and then drifts away again.
If that still sounds a little too woo-woo for your taste, try singing along to your favorite music. Singing requires you to inhale fast and then sustain the exhale to hold those notes. In addition, listening to music you love can trigger feel-good endorphins and dopamine. I always felt better after singing in my car, but I didn’t know that there might be a scientific reason why!
Sitting still is boring! Why not take a walk instead? Walking meditation is practiced in many different cultures, although it may not be thought of as a mindfulness exercise. Going for a stroll after dinner, for example, is a tradition that only recently fell out of favor thanks to television and, later, computers and smartphones.
If you have the opportunity to do so, a 20-minute walk outdoors at a gentle pace can be just as effective as seated meditation. Plus you’ll get the physical health benefits of walking as well as fresh air and sunshine.
Since that’s not an option for everyone, consider doing some kind of stretching or yoga. Even those of us with limited mobility can adapt yoga movements to benefit from the practice. There are too many different types of yoga to list here. You can find videos online to sample until you find a teacher and style that works for you. If yoga doesn’t click for you, try tai chi. Learning complicated dance moves might not be quite as relaxing, but if your heart belongs to ballroom dance, then you do you.
Crafting and Creativity
I didn’t realize until I started researching mindfulness that I had been meditating for years without knowing it! I love to knit and crochet. Some mornings I’ll start my day with 20 or 30 minutes of work on my current project. While I might listen to a podcast or some music, I’m just as happy to sit in silence as my hands go through the practiced motions of creating stitches.
To me, “crafting meditation” is a great practice because you reap the benefits of traditional seated meditation and you get a nice hat or scarf at the end of it. Any kind of activity that requires minimal mental engagement and a simple, repetitive motion can become an exercise in mindfulness. Drawing and doodling, such as the popular “Zentangle” method, could be a good alternative if you’re not a knitter. Adult coloring books aren’t quite as trendy as they used to be, but puzzles are making a big comeback during the quarantine.
I’ve written about the power of playing a musical instrument here, and I think you can argue that practicing is also a form of mindful meditation. Gardening is another wonderful hobby to adapt into a mindfulness exercise. The simple motions, the connection to the natural world, the quiet joy of cultivating plants both beautiful and useful–it’s truly good for the soul.