Meditation: we’ve all given it a go. Or at least thought about how we really should give it a go, since everyone and their mother now seems to be doing it.
It works wonders for some – who claim it restores peace, perspective, helps with anxiety, insomnia, and myriad other things. But for some of us, sitting and doing nothing is basically impossible – never mind doing so without your mind wandering over to your plans for later or that embarrassing thing you did yesterday.
Meditation: what is it?
Although often regarded as synonymous with relaxation, the official definition of meditation is to clear the mind and separate yourself from the distractions of daily life in order to reach a heightened level of spiritual awareness. Indeed, now that the Buddhism-derived practice has become more mainstream, for many it is less of a spiritual exercise and more of a way to find calmness, reconnect with yourself and your senses, and to encourage the mind to pause and reboot.
Overall, the ambiguity over what meditation truly means leaves each of us with a little wiggle room to make fit whatever works for us. Sure, for some this could be the classic sitting in the lotus position, eyes softly closed while our consciousness drifts and our worries melt. But for most of us, we need to really explore how we personally can sink into that restorative meditative state.
Whether it’s the swimming lengths, jogging in the park, or indulging in a yoga class, many forms of exercise can induce meditative effects on your consciousness. This is because it naturally encourages mindfulness of the senses. The rhythmic repetition invoked by cardio is mirrored by your heartbeat and your breaths, triggering a natural alignment of the physical and mental self and quieting the usual noise of the consciousness. Softer exercise such as yoga, pilates or dance is a more gentle way of grounding yourself to your body, shifting the focus to your physical sensations and away from fleeting worries and racing thoughts.
It’s no revelation that spending time in nature is absolutely transformative for both mental and physical wellbeing. With the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” gaining popularity worldwide, and doctors in Scotland now prescribing nature to patients due to its proven health benefits.
Most of what we look at and think about these days is artificial: work, bank balances, social media, material possessions… As a result, we tend to lose a grasp of the bigger picture. Taking some time out in nature to temporarily swap pavements and traffic for rolling hills and trees is like a reset for the psyche. We too come from nature after all, and are not built to be indoors or stare at a screen for the majority of the day. Whether you go solo or in a group, some quiet time out of the city – even just for half an hour or so – can be just the tonic you need to separate yourself from the artificial world, quieten your chatty mind, and get some perspective.
Sometimes it is simply getting creative which will bring you to that meditative state. Whether it’s sketching, knitting, playing the piano or baking, the act of temporarily channeling your consciousness into a task which you find both calming and rewarding can be hugely impactful. To intensify the benefits, when partaking in such activities, remove yourself all outside distractions and dedicate yourself for this moment to your creative outlet.
Once you finish the session, you should come out of it realising that you completely moved your focus away from whatever is usually playing on your mind. Although not blank, your mind temporarily shifts its perspective, meaning that you get a much-needed break from all the usual noise and drama.
Whether it’s a hot bath, your local swimming pool or the ocean itself, submersing yourself in water has instant meditative effects. Hydrotherapy has been practised for centuries. Both the use of hot and cold water can have beneficial effects on the body. There’s something about being immersed in water that melts away stress and slows down intrusive thoughts.
Make the most of this easy mental health soother and try to be mindful of the grounding and purification sensations provided by the water. Imagine that the water is also cleansing your anxieties to use it as a powerful meditation tool.
Make your meditation your own
All in all, meditation can be so much more than forcing yourself to silently sit still. There are now many apps, Youtube videos and other technologies out there now to help, if guided meditation is your thing.
Or, if you prefer to break away from technology to truly feel relaxed and grounded, then adding other elements such as exercise, nature or bathing to your practice may be the answer to your chatty mind struggles. You won’t know what works for you until you try them all!
Have you tried any of these mediation alternatives? Let us know in the comments!