There’s a lot of hype around meditation.
I’m lucky enough to have grown up with hippie parents who sent me off to yoga classes when I was two, and who both meditate quite literally for hours every day.
I do love them, but I’m fully aware that that is not normal.
In fact, most of us find meditation daunting, difficult, or just too far out.
I get it.
When we think meditation, I’m guessing that most of us picture someone sitting in cross legged silence, no thoughts in their mind, at one with the universe.
Simply can’t meditate? You’re not alone.
Luckily, meditation can take many forms, and we can still get many of the same mind-altering benefits that we would get from meditation from these other practices.
I for one, often find running to be meditative practice.
In this article, we are going to take a look into these meditation alternatives by analysing 8 state-changing activities that you can implement in your own life.
But first- state-changing?
…how can we change our brain?
We’ve known for years that meditation can,
- Relieve stress,
- lower our blood pressure,
- and lift our mood.
But it’s not just meditation that can have this effect.
In fact, every single thing that we do changes our brain to some extent.
By rewiring our neural circuits.
The activities that you do regularly, literally change your brain.
When we go about our lives doing stuff, our least used neural connections are pruned away, whilst those that are exercised most become strengthened.
Can’t meditate (or don’t like the idea)?
Let’s take a look at 8 activities that have the potential to change our brain for the better.
1. Listen to Music
This is a fun one, and so simple!
You’ve probably listened to music today in some form, but have you actually listened to it?
Often we just have music humming away in the background, and that’s great.
But put on some good-quality earphones, or connect your phone to a decent speaker and play something amazing.
Maybe whack on an old favorite, or take it as an opportunity to discover a new tune.
And listen. Really listen.
Give the lyrics, beat, melody, your full attention.
2. Get in the Sauna
Now if you’re lucky enough to have a sauna at your disposal- go you!
Saunas are a great way to relax.
But did you know that hopping in the sauna can be a very effective way of getting you out of your head and into your body.
No surprises seeing as it is one massive body shock!
When you’re in the sauna be sure to focus your attention on noticing the sensation of your skin changing from cool, to warm, to hot.
Take time to feel the hot air of the sauna fill your lungs with each inhalation, and be pushed out with each exhalation.
Even take a second to notice how sweaty you get!
And, seeing as you’re practicing full body awareness, you’ll be able to know exactly when you’ve been in there too long!
3. Do Yoga
Yoga was sure to make this list, it is a famously meditative practice after all.
But it isn’t always!
You can easily go through the motions of a yoga class without reaping any of the mindfulness benefits that it can offer you.
It is all dependent on your psychological investment into the practice.
Instead of just going through the motions of the yoga routine, really focus on feeling how each pose makes your body feel.
Try these 6 Yoga Inversions that you can do right now!
4. Immerse Yourself in Cold Water
Much like the sauna, but completely the opposite.
Jumping Into cold water sounds pretty nasty, but it can give you a real high.
And your options aren’t limited.
You can take a dip in a chilly ocean, lake, river, waterfall, or fill up a bath with the coldest water your tap has to offer (you can even top it up with ice!), even a quick blast under a cold shower counts!
A big proponent of this practice is the iceman himself, Wim Hof, who encourages people to find their ‘inner warmth’ through exposure to the cold.
Coldwater immersion is a sure-fire way to get you in the moment. There’s no chance you’ll be daydreaming or worrying about life’s daily stresses as you take an icy plunge.
When you do take that dip, it is important to focus on steady, meaningful breaths.
Either that, or you’ll end up flapping around, yelping, and panicking- not so mindful!
And not only is cold water immersion a great way to get you in the moment, but according to research, it can also:
- and even help to treat symptoms of depression.
5. Get Journalling
Quite often, we let our thoughts control us, rather than the other way around.
If you find yourself worrying about the million things it seems like you have to do, or getting carried away with negative could be’s or what if’s, you might want to try out journaling as a mindful practice.
Journaling is a fantastic way to detangle thoughts and it can be a helpful meditative practice for when you are feeling overwhelmed.
It helps you to clear away the cobwebs and get down to what really matters.
Instead of dismissing stressful thoughts, or fixating on them, mindful journaling encourages you to write them down.
Write without judgement, and let whatever needs to come up come up.
And observe what you’ve written, without attachment.
You may find that you can more easily let go of things that need to be dropped.
It can be very cathartic.
Take a few seconds to check in with yourself throughout the practice. How do you feel before and after?
And when you’re done you can even burn the pages you’ve written! That way, you can give yourself permission to write completely freely (no one will ever read it!), and also, well, it’s just poetic.
So, create a relaxing environment for yourself, grab a pen and paper, and get ready to get those pesky thoughts out of your head and onto the page.
6. Use Breathing Techniques
Breathwork meditation is a great alternative to traditional meditation if you want to meditate but can’t bring yourself to just ‘do anything’.
By using a breathing technique you give yourself an anchor, something to do. That way, you’ll have something to focus on and come back to every time your mind goes off on a tangent.
The practice of focusing on your breath is often referred to as Pranayama. In Sanskrit prana means “vital life force”, and yama means to gain control.
Because the breath is associated with the vital life force, pranayama is a means to elevate the prana shakti, or life energies.
There are countless types of meditative breathing techniques out there. But here’s a short list of just a few of them:
This is where you are simply ‘aware’ of your breath. And it’s a good introduction to meditative breathing.
There are claims that this technique positively influences your blood circulation, autonomic nervous system, and immune system.
This technique involves;
- Taking 30-40 mindful deep breaths
- On an exhale, holding your breath until you get the urge to breathe again.
- Then when you do feel that urge, taking one big full breath, holding it for 15 seconds, and letting it go.
- Repeat this cycle 3-4 times.
Or, follow along with this video:
Dirga Pranayama, or ‘Three Part Breath’
This is an ancient yogic breathing technique which will calm and ground you.
Here’s how it’s done:
- Get comfortable by lying on your back.
- Breath into your belly.
- When your belly feels full, draw in more breath to fill the rib cage.
- When your rib cage feels full, draw in a tiny bit more air to fill your chest.
- Begin your exhale starting with the breath in your upper chest.
- Then your ribcage.
- Then let all of the air be released from your belly.
- Continue this cycle for another 10-20 breaths.
Maybe this looks like we’ve saved the best until last, or maybe the thought of dancing makes you feel uneasy.
Either way, humans have been dancing for millions of years, so it would be silly not to indulge our ancestors.
Dancing can be a fun and freeing way of linking up your mind and your body, and you don’t have to go to a club to do it.
In fact, putting on some music in your room, or plugging yourself into headphones, and having a boogie in private is the best way to get really into a dancing meditation.
Dancing is an endorphin booster, and is a sure fire way to improve your mood.
So let go of your inhibitions and become one with the music!
8. Go for a walk
You don’t need anything special to go for a walk. In fact, leave everything at home: your phone, headphones, money (but don’t forget your keys).
This can be a great way to get you out of a cycle. If you work from home, taking regular walking breaks are a good way to pause, check in with yourself, and appreciate the world around you.
When you head out for a meditative walk, try and take in all of your surroundings.
What can you see?
What can you hear?
What can you smell?
What can you feel?
Feel the soles of your feet with each step and notice the wind and weather on your skin.
You might come to notice that even on a quiet day, the world is rich with life.