Can’t seem to meditate? 6 joyful activities for you to try instead
It's not “don’t meditate” but rather, that meditation is like many things — great for some people, but not necessarily for everyone.
If you’ve struggled with traditional forms of meditation, yet still crave a way to settle your mind and ease your anxiety, happily, there are other approaches that can create a similar kind of mental expansiveness to that offered by meditation. These techniques don’t have nearly the same fervor or body of research backing them, but they are valuable alternatives, especially for those of us who find meditation unbearable rather than unburdening.
I find that visualization gives me the same kind of distance and space that many people find in meditation, but it also engages my imagination in the process. Rather than feeling like I need to sit with uncomfortable feelings or ideas, it allows me to transform them creatively — not to avoid them but to work with them in a generative, dynamic way. I haven’t found great research on the use of visualization as a meditation alternative, but there are anecdotal accounts of nurses using visualization with patients, particularly children, as a method of relieving pain.
Certain types of coloring may help reduce anxiety. In particular, 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. Tied to this, subsequent studies have shown that coloring not only decreases anxiety, but also increases mindfulness and may also improve attention and creativity.
Drumming is a grounding activity that lets us blow off steam in a safe and non-aggressive way. Notably, drumming is one activity that has typically been studied as a group intervention rather than an individual practice. It’s possible that solo drumming also has benefits, but current research on drumming tends to focus on the physical experience of rhythm, synchrony and belonging as the key drivers of mental well-being.
Looking upward may also help, as this increases the amount of light that enters the eye, which itself has distinct benefits for mental well-being.
Little research has been done on cloud gazing (sadly!), however one study points to the benefits of sky views as restorative, and accessible. While green nature views have been widely shown to help reduce stress, sky views are beneficial because they can be accessed even in dense urban areas.
Morning pages are a creative tool devised by the writer Julia Cameron in her celebrated book The Artist’s Way . To do them, you simply write three long-hand pages first thing in the morning, writing without stopping and allowing whatever thoughts arise to go onto the page.
For writers, morning pages are a way of breaking through the pressure of the blank page and opening a line of dialogue with your creative brain. No one has to read them. In fact, you can place them directly into the trash when you’re done if you choose.
Walking meditation is a form of meditation in its own right, but even if you don’t have a formal walking meditation practice, some form of mindful movement can be calming. Walking is easy and accessible to most people, and for those who feel stuck when attempting a seated meditation, it can help by engaging the body as well as the mind in the act of quiet reflection.
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