I’ve probably written a dozen articles over the years about the benefits of mindfulness, its impact on the brain, and how easy it is to get started with meditation. And yet, I admit that I personally never succeeded in maintaining a regular practice of meditation.
At least I know I’m not alone. Experts reassure struggling meditation beginners that just sitting still and breathing can be a lot harder than it first appears. And if that doesn’t work to ease my guilt, then I also remember this post highlighting the wisdom of Wharton professor Adam Grant and author Oliver Burkeman, saying there are many other ways to practice mindfulness outside of classical meditation.
You don’t need to meditate to practice mindfulness.
After being harassed for years by the many stimulants of mindfulness, Grant finally took to The New York Times to say that meditation is not for everyone. Many people, he explains, find other ways to calm their brains, be in the moment, and reduce stress.
Burkeman agreed with the Guardian, writing “I have a personal theory that almost everyone secretly meditates, whether they are aware of it or not… almost everyone pursues an activity requiring absolute presence of mind: if not the mountaineering, sailing or cycle racing (where a lack of attention can mean death), then photography or singing or recreational cooking (where a lack of attention means you’ll screw it all up).”
If these smart guys are to be believed, I probably have another way to clear my mind and stay in the present (probably running, gardening, and cooking). But what other activities can work as daily mindfulness exercises with some of its benefits?
Alternatives to daily meditation
If you’re looking for ideas, look no further than a recent TED Ideas article by designer and author Ingrid Fetell Lee. Fetell Lee also struggled with meditation until his therapist suggested that some people just aren’t suited to a traditional practice (especially those with unresolved trauma). Fetell set out to find alternatives that would work better for those like her, sharing a few she discovered in her post:
Coloring. Those adult coloring books you see around actually have some solid science behind them. “Research shows that coloring in an intricate abstract pattern such as a mandala or checkered pattern can significantly reduce anxiety. Structured patterns like this have a strong symmetry that taps into the aesthetics of harmony, which promotes calm through symmetry and balance, quieting the visual noise of our surroundings so we can focus more deeply on what matters to us,” reports Fetell Lee.
Drum. Another idea supported by research. “In one study, a group drumming initiative resulted in a significant reduction in anxiety and depression, as well as an increase in overall mental well-being,” Fetell Fee writes.
Watch the clouds. You know how when you look at a sky full of fluffy clouds, your mind naturally begins to find shapes within patterns in the white fluff? Turns out, it could be more than childish fun. “Little research has been done on cloud viewing (unfortunately!), but one study points to the benefits of sky views as restorative and accessible,” says Fetell Lee. A huge body of science also shows that spending time in nature is fantastic for your mental health, so laying down on the grass looking up at the sky will certainly do you no harm.
Morning Pages. Learn more about this long but often recommended morning writing practice here.
Market. A huge percentage of the great thinkers in history have been avid walkers and science is beginning to explain why. “The benefits of mindful walking include stress reduction and improved cognition in older adults, in addition to the many mental health benefits of the increased physical activity it provides,” Fetell Lee writes.
Looking for more ways to add a little mindfulness to your day? Learn more about these practices and a few more in Fetell Lee’s full post.