When the topic of meditation comes up, a lot of people think about monks or their students sitting on tiny benches in elaborate postures and engaging in stringent practices. Maybe that just isn’t your thing. It’s not easy to scour YouTube or to go from center to center in search of meditation techniques. It can be a confusing journey. Some traditions are too religious. Others are too secular or use a vocabulary that some of us just don’t connect with very well. You may have tried a few techniques, but the motivation just isn’t there.
Meditation has lots of benefits including heart health, increased positivity, the awakening of love and compassion, higher work output, better sleep, whole brain functioning, and much more—and these are just a drop in the bucket.
Who doesn’t want all these benefits?
If you want to enjoy the benefits of meditation without the uncomfortable posture, jargon, guru lineages, or other things that might turn you off, here are some alternatives to classic meditation worth trying below.
Multiple studies have shown that playing a hand drum, especially in group settings, gives us many of the same benefits as mindfulness meditation and Transcendental Meditation.
Drumming increases problem-solving ability. It increases empathy. It boosts the immune system and reduces stress. It also boosts school grades and good behavior in children. In some settings, drumming is used to treat ADHD. Studies suggest that it works better than Prozac and Ritalin when used to relieve ADHD and depression. Drumming is actually a meditation technique. The key is to become deeply absorbed in the rhythm and the sensations you feel in your hands and elsewhere.
You might find it hard to sit in half-lotus and concentrate during a breathing meditation. Drumming, on the other hand, has a powerful way of holding your attention so it doesn’t feel like a chore.
Try it solo or in groups. If you have a local drum circle, stop by and check it out. Someone may have a drum for you to try. Practice a few basic beats, and you’re well on your way to reaping the benefits of meditation.
You have watched sunsets before, right? Have you ever just melted in awe? You likely had no problem concentrating, right? One of the feelings I’ve experienced while watching sunsets and sunrises was love. It seemed to be the magic glue that connected me with the sun. It was like a prolonged hug.
In many ways, meditation mirrors falling in love. When you’re making love with someone, you are merging together on a deep level. You are paying full attention to each other. It is hard not to concentrate on your experience with that person. During meditation, you are merging with your chosen object and experiencing that same type of merging.
If you are in the position to have a fire pit in your yard, do it. If you’re not allowed to dig holes, you can use a feeding trough from a farming supplies store. Like sunsets, camp fires have a powerful meditative effect: The wood crackles, there’s a roaring sound as the fire consumes the wood, you can feel the heat on your body. All of this has a way of pulling you in. I find fire gazing to have a very purifying effect on my mind.
Then the wind shifts, and the smoke goes straight into your eyes. It’s OK. Scoot down a little ways and enjoy the scene without judgment. It’s OK if you get distracted. Don’t worry about it. Pay full attention to that experience, too. Your mind is reacting to the experience, and that reaction is happening in the present moment as well. During meditation, don’t judge your experience. If you’re annoyed, just take notice of the annoyance. Let all these things happen with love. Then go back to the fire. Do the same if anything distracts you, like your own thoughts or anxiety about a dinner date. Observe them with love, then go back to the fire.
Many people find relaxation while pulling weeds or nurturing their spinach, broccoli, basil, and tomatoes in their gardens. If you make the intention to really pay attention to what you’re doing, then gardening becomes a form of meditation. You can concentrate on the feeling of your knees on the ground, the sensations in your hands, and the feeling of your breath. You can also thank every single plant that you work with for providing you with healthy food or beautiful scenery. Now you’re mixing meditation with gratitude work.
Don’t just stop at gardening. Try hand washing the dishes with full absorption in your experience, or practice being present while vacuuming, crocheting, or vegetable chopping. A lot of our everyday activities can become meditation techniques—maybe meditation is your thing, and you just didn’t know it.
Maybe you hang out in a cubicle all day or you sit in front of a computer a lot. Going out for short a walk can become a meditation. The same goes for jogging, dancing, and other forms of exercise. When walking, pay attention to your breath and the sensations of your body. Be mindful of your feet hitting the ground in a rhythmic pattern. Anyone who dances knows that their minds are preoccupied with what they’re doing. But there are many styles—find a style that completely draws your attention so that you become absorbed in what you’re doing.
You may be surprised to learn that some people run as a meditation. Runners often describe a phenomenon called “runner’s high,” which is a blissful state full of endorphins.
There are hundreds of other ways to reap the benefits of meditation without sitting for a half hour every morning. No matter how you attempt to bring calm and clarity into your life, see if you can focus your attention on just that one thing. That small change may help you reduce your anxiety and stress, improve your health, and take charge of your life.