Traditional meditation isn’t for everyone. For some people, the thought of total quiet, or even a guided meditation, is unappealing. Meditation can be wonderful, but there are some days when I’m just not in the mood for my usual meditations or yoga. That doesn’t mean I want to forsake mindfulness altogether, I just need an alternative. Whether you aren’t a fan of typical meditation or want more meditation options, here are some techniques that will bring some much needed Zen into your day.
Sometimes, simply remembering to breathe is all you need to find peace. Unfortunately, according to actor and freediving champion Tanc Sade in an article for Details in partnership with Q, Equinox’s editorial site, a lot of us are doing it wrong. “Most people shallow breathe — half-breaths that go no deeper than the chest. Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple way to relieve stress, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and leave yourself revitalized to carry on with your day,” says Sade. Harvard Medical School’s Family Health Guide reports these positive effects of deep breathing as well, explaining that “[d]eep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide.” Harvard has some helpful hints for beginning a breathing practice, including a simple explanation of how to breathe deeply and tips for creating a breathing ritual, and Details includes a primer of three breathing exercises that will help relieve stress and tension. The Huffington Post also has a helpful video in which Zen fitness expert Jeff Christian demonstrates a simple breath counting technique.
I get it. You don’t always want to sit in silence when you’re breathing, nor do you care to listen to nature sounds or so-called “meditation music” when you’re trying to chill out. I don’t always want those things, either. For me, getting swept up in a song or album can help me deal with emotions and refocus in a way similar to meditation. According to a 2013 Huffington Post article written by mindfulness coach Patrick Groneman, music promotes mindfulness. “Music can…be a mirror to help us better understand our own inner-world of thoughts, emotions and feelings. Vague inner-textures can find clarity of shape, catharsis and release through the teaching that is always available in musical art — listening can be healing,” said Groneman. If this sounds like a way to practice mindfulness that could work for you, check out Groneman’s suggestions for creating mindfulness with music Groneman’s method includes committing to the practice without distraction, which he pinpoints as the most important aspect of the practice, and processing the experience by deep breathing or journaling about it afterward.
You may want to find a tree-lined area for your next walk or run. A Stanford University report reveals that taking a walk in nature can have a positive effect on mental health. The study found that the area of the brain that is active during rumination —which the report describes as “repetitive thought focused on negative emotions” and names as “a key factor in depression” — was less active for those who took a 90-minute walk in a natural setting of grass and oak trees than for those who walked for the same amount of time in an area with heavy traffic. James Gross, a co-author of the study, stresses the importance of these findings, saying that “they are consistent with, but do not yet prove, a causal link between increasing urbanization and increased rates of mental illness.” The report also claims that “…city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas.”
Reconnecting to nature may prove to be an important resource in regulating negative thought patterns and alleviate some of the stresses associated with city living. Check your neighborhood for places where you can safely go on nature walks, such as local parks with walking paths.