I've probably written a dozen articles over the years about the benefits of mindfulness, how it impacts the brain, and how simple it is to get started with meditation. And yet I confess I have personally never managed to keep up a consistent meditation practice.
At least I know I'm not alone. Experts reassure struggling meditation newbies that just sitting still and breathing can be way harder than it first seems. And if that doesn't work to alleviate my guilt, then I also remember this post highlighting the wisdom of Wharton professor Adam Grant and author Oliver Burkeman, arguing there are many other ways to practice mindfulness aside from classic meditation.
You don't need to meditate to practice mindfulness
After being harassed for years by mindfulness's many boosters, Grant finally took to The New York Times to argue that meditation isn't for everyone. Many people, he explains, find other ways to quiet their brains, be in the present moment, and reduce their stress.
Burkeman concurred in The Guardian, writing "I have a personal theory that almost everyone secretly meditates, whether they realize it or not. ... almost everyone pursues some activity demanding absolute presence of mind: if not mountain climbing or sailing or bike racing (where a lapse of attention might mean death), then photography or singing or recreational cookery (where a lapse of attention means you'll screw things up)."
If these smart guys are to be believed, then I probably have another way to clear my mind, and keep myself in the present (probably running, gardening, and cooking). But what other activities can function as everyday mindfulness exercises with some of its benefits?
Everyday meditation alternatives
If you're looking for some ideas, then look no further than a recent TED Ideas post by designer and author Ingrid Fetell Lee. Fetell Lee also struggled with meditation until her therapist suggested some people simply just aren't a good fit for a traditional practice (particularly those with unresolved trauma). Fetell Lee 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 solid science behind them. "Research shows that coloring a complex abstract design such as a mandala or a plaid pattern can reduce anxiety in a meaningful way. Structured patterns like this have strong symmetry that taps into the harmony aesthetic, which promotes calm through symmetry and balance, quieting the visual noise of our surroundings so we can focus more deeply on what we care about," Fetell Lee reports.
Drumming. Another research-backed idea. "In one study, a group drumming initiative resulted in significant reductions in anxiety and depression, along with an increase in overall mental well-being," writes Fetell Fee.
Cloud gazing. You know how, when you look up at a sky full of fluffy clouds, your mind naturally starts to find shapes in patterns in the white fluff? Turns out that this might be more than childlike fun. "Little research has been done on cloud gazing (sadly!), however one study points to the benefits of sky views as restorative and accessible," claims Fetell Lee. A huge body of science also shows spending time in nature is fantastic for your mental health, so lying on the grass staring up at the sky will certainly do you no harm.
Morning pages. Read more about this lengthy but oft recommended morning writing practice here.
Walking. A huge percentage of history's great thinkers have been avid walkers, and science is starting to explain why. "Benefits of mindful walking include stress reduction and improved cognition among older adults, in addition to the many mental health benefits of increased physical activity that it provides," writes Fetell Lee.
Looking for more ways to add a little mindfulness to your day? Read much more about these practices and a couple more in Fetell Lee's complete post.