Hate to meditate? You’re not alone. Although it seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world, sitting still and breathing deeply for even 5 minutes can be a big challenge. But since meditation is so beneficial to both mind and body, it’s worth trying to work it, or one of the alternatives below, into your regular routine.
1. Tai chi
This Chinese martial art is studied widely around the world for its health benefits, and it’s even been called “meditation in motion.” Common practice of tai chi (or t’ai chi) for health typically involves slow, deliberate movements through a sequence. Because it’s low impact, it’s great for a wide range of ages and fitness levels, and it’s known to calm the mind and improve the stress response.
Also originating from China, qigong (or qi gong, chi gung) is a meditation-in-motion practice that also incorporates slow movement and energy work. It has many of the same health benefits as tai chi, but may be more suitable for people with fitness limitations.
Great for the body, great for the mind. Some types of yoga focus on the meditation aspect more than others, like hatha, kundalini, and yin. But you can deliberately incorporate meditation and mindfulness into any form of yoga you choose.
Many runners enter a flow state which looks a lot like meditation: time doesn’t seem to pass at the same rate, the sense of “self” becomes less clear, and attention is focused on the current moment.
For physical types who don’t fancy running, swimming is an alternative that also does wonders for the body and the mind.
6. Rock climbing
Like running and swimming, rock climbing is a full-body sport that’s physically challenging. Unlike running and swimming, where you can get into the groove of the repetitive motion, rock climbing requires you to be mindful of each and every step you take.
Golf requires patience, precision, and control of the body and the breath. Played with the goal of staying in the moment, it can be a wonderful alternative to sitting meditation.
8. Time in nature
A round of golf also has something else going for it: it’s outdoors. Being in nature – whether you’re running, boating, taking a walk, or just sitting quietly – improves your immune system, mental well-being and ability to focus.
9. Time with animals
Pets can be such powerful influences on our emotional health that many people have medically recognized Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). Whether we care for them or simply spend some time around them, animals can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, and focus our attention on something other than ourselves and our problems. The next time you take your dog for a walk or sit down with your cat, choose to be mindful and present in the moment. If you don’t own a pet, consider volunteering at a shelter. It’s win-win.
Benefits of gardening go beyond spending time in nature: nurturing living things and tending their well-being is good for your well-being, too. And even simple gardening tasks like weeding can get you into the beneficial flow state.
Meet up with a funny friend, watch a funny video on YouTube, or listen to a stand-up routine and laugh. In addition to just being fun, a study last year showed that laughter led to increased levels of gamma waves, brainwaves shown to increase during certain types of transcendental meditation.
12. Playing music
Deliberate practice of an instrument requires focused attention and connects your body and mind together. To make it effective as a meditation practice, just enjoy the experience of practicing scales or working on a tough passage, and don’t be overly attached to the outcome. Stressing about whether you’re playing well is not the point.
13. Listening to certain types of music
Drumming has long been used in many cultures for spiritual purposes, and one of the reasons is that it’s an effective way to manipulate your brainwaves. Drumming or listening to regular, rhythmic drumming increases alpha waves, the same seen in deep relaxation and light meditation. Other types of music, including trance and minimalism, may do the same.
14. Puzzles and games of logic
Doing a Sudoku or playing chess requires you to use logic and imagination, and it stretches your problem-solving skills to the limit. In addition to keeping your brain healthy and your mind sharp, it’s a great way to focus your attention on one thing and clear out the frustrations of your day.
15. Memorizing a poem
Memorizing a poem, like doing a puzzle, requires focused concentration that crowds out other stressful thoughts like what you’re making for dinner or how you’ll pay the bills next month.
Grab some crayons or colored pencils and get coloring! This creative and attention-focusing activity is becoming popular among the mature crowd, and you can now find a variety of coloring books geared towards adults. Get an extra dose of spirituality and color in mandalas.
Knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, embroidery, tatting, and other kinds of needlework not only focus your attention and engage your creativity, they also let you get into the flow state through repetitive motion.
18. Ship in a bottle
If knitting isn’t your thing, maybe building things is. Model kits for airplanes, ships, cars, buildings, robots, etc. give you the satisfaction of creating something with your hands while calming your mind and making it focus on one task.
19. Doing the dishes
Next time the sink is full, think of it as an opportunity rather than a chore – an opportunity to get into that state of mindfulness that’s at the heart of effective meditation. A recent study showed that mindful dish washing led to positive results like decreased nervousness and increased inspiration.
Seems like a strange entry, but like many other items on this list, laying brick requires focus and a methodical approach to the task at hand. Winston Churchill famously had the hobby (he was so into it he joined the union of bricklayers and masons in 1928), and if it was good enough for Churchill, well, it’s probably good enough for us.
Okay, this one is cheating a bit… meditation as an alternative to meditation? But hear me out. When we think of “meditating” we think of sitting still (possibly in the lotus position) for a period of time in a quiet room, eyes closed, and we’re told to clear our minds completely and just sit. For most of us, who have families, jobs, responsibilities, and long to-do lists, that’s easier said than done.
But that’s just one kind of meditation – there are many more. Instead of trying to clear your mind, you can meditate by focusing on something like a physical object in your hands, a mantra, a sound, or even the number of breaths going in and out of your body. You may want to choose a Zen Koan or a passage from a meaningful book to think deeply about during your meditation time. Just choose your object of focus and bring your mind back to it when you notice your attention drifting, and boom, you’re meditating!