Is mastering traditional meditation and the lotus position proving tricky?
You want to meditate daily but finding a quiet space at home to focus on your breathing and thoughts is difficult, especially when there’s plenty of distractions around (hello TV and noisy neighbours!).
In this post, we offer six alternatives for meditation that deliver the same benefits as traditional meditation such as clarity and self-awareness, reduced anxiety, and calm in your day-to-day life. The idea is to try as many of these meditation substitutes, choose your favourite activity and then do it regularly for long-term health and wellness.
1. Walking with no distractions
Let’s start with the easiest substitute for meditation; a good, long walk but without your phone or headphones.
Most people will listen to a podcast or blast their favourite music while walking. It’s counterproductive and doesn’t allow decompressing because we are constantly taking in other people’s words and thoughts, missing the chance to be alone with ours. A podcast or music will distract you from processing your thoughts.
Meditation is about working through our thoughts and letting them pass through without judgement. It’s meant to be cathartic. As scary as it might be to be alone with your thoughts, it’s necessary so we can tap into our intuition.
Next time you go for a walk – whether it’s your local park or just around the block, try leaving your headphones at home and let your thoughts rise up. You might have heard someone say, “That walk really cleared my head!” To enjoy this benefit, walk in silence as often as you can while focusing on your breathing.
Walking in silence is great for mulling over problems and firing up your creativity. It’s amazing what solutions will come to you when you give your brain the space and time to process thoughts and emotions.
2. Forest Bathing with all five senses
How good does it feel to be out in nature, with sunshine warming your face, surrounded by blue sky and green trees? Studies show that being outdoors and connecting with nature is good for our physical, mental, and emotional health. In Japan, forest bathing or ‘Shinrin-yoku’ has been practiced for centuries. Shinrin means ‘forest’ and yoku means ‘bath’. So shinrin-yoku means taking in the forest through all five senses.
Walk through natural surroundings with intention, silence, and slowness. By walking slower than usual, you may notice more – the colour and rough texture of the bark on the trees, the vibrancy of the green leaves or busy beetles scurrying up tree trunks.It’s extra delicious when you complete forest bathing barefoot. TIP: Just be aware of your surroundings before you pack away your shoes (you don’t want to be barefoot in funnel-web spider territory, for instance).
3. The stillness of bird watching
If you like being outdoors, add birdwatching to your list as an alternative for meditation. Birdwatching and meditation have plenty in common.
For example, they both require patience, stillness, and silence. The Blue Mountains is an excellent spot for birdwatching. You can give it a go on either our Inner Joy retreat or Journey into Stillness retreat. Spot satin bowerbirds, blue fairy wrens, king parrots, crimson rosellas, brown cuckoo doves, currawongs, butcherbirds, and black cockatoos as you wander around the Happy Buddha property. Early mornings and early evenings are the best times for birdwatching as it’s when birds are most active, but you can enjoy it at any time during the day.
Or sit still in a quiet spot and watch the bushland come to life around you. Just closing your eyes and listening to songbirds can also be relaxing. Be present with nature and resist the urge to capture it on your phone.
4. Jumping into cold water
Did I say all of these activities were relaxing? Whoops!
This meditation substitute is more about clarity and invigoration, rather than relaxing introspection – but all three are important when it comes to mindfulness. Jumping into cold water – whether it’s diving into the ocean headfirst or turning on the cold tap when you’re having a shower, can help increase mental alertness and get the blood flowing to your muscles. It can also help with muscle injury recovery, which is why athletes favour ice baths and cold ocean swimming.
Think about it. When you plunge into icy water and your breath whooshes out of you, there’s no time to feel anxious or worried. It catapults you right into the moment, which is what meditation is all about – feeling present. Research has found that cold water swimming can lead to improved heart health, a boost in your mood and self-confidence!
5. Try a Yin Yoga class
Yin yoga is a masterclass in looking inwards. By holding shapes and poses for longer than traditional vinyasa or hatha yoga, there’s more time to be sitting with the thoughts, feelings and emotions that can arise in certain poses.
Yin yoga is a great chance to stretch out your mind and body, plus there’s a chance to enjoy a juicy savasana at the end of your practice. It’s a great example of really listening and tuning into your body and (sometimes) sitting with discomfort because we’re forced to sit and observe our thoughts.
6. Use your hands to make something
There’s something calming about feeling different materials and textures like fabric, yarn, clay in your hands, molding and shaping them to create something new with your hands.
Weaving was something I personally took up during lockdowns while I watched TV in the evenings. Soon, I began to really enjoy the meditative quality that came with repeating the same action. I enjoyed having a finished product at the end of it, too.
It evolved into mindfulness in a different way, as I gifted my wall hangings made with recycled yarn in my projects. There’s something deeply satisfying about gifting loved ones a handmade gift made with love, especially when it includes a recycled element.
Weaving is a mindful activity – in the same way that yoga is. You develop a state of flow when weaving. Some people also find it easier to steady their minds when there’s an activity to focus on. If you often find your mind wandering during meditation, an activity where you are focused on using your hands might be perfect! Research has found that finding your flow is linked closely to your state of happiness, reduces stress, and improves your mental health.
Looking for a retreat in the Blue Mountains which is all about slowing down and finding calm? Check out our Inner Joy retreat which helps you tap into your inner joy, contentment, and self-acceptance.
[This article was updated in July 2023 to include more detail and related images]
Kate Reynolds is a writer who’s at her happiest when there’s haloumi on the brunch menu and a dog to give pats to. She writes monthly streaming recommendations over at 7News and gets her tech on at Reviews.org, where she also makes dorky TikToks. When not writing you’ll usually find her freelancing as a voice actor, in a juicy downward-facing dog, hiking in nature or practising her jazz hands for an upcoming amateur theatre musical. She writes on Wangal land.