“I don’t have that much time to meditate, but I want to do something good for my brain, what else can I do?”– A client asked.
I thought this was a great question. It showed the growing awareness about taking care of one’s brain. It used to be that anything to do with mental health was stigmatized, but a physical issue was okay to have. But the brain is part of the body and it is at least as important as the body. Stress affects our mind as well. See signs of stress. These days meditation and especially mindfulness has become a go to recommendation for stress reduction. Stress is a physiological response but chronic stress triggers are mostly mental, which makes stress a bad social and mental habit rather than helping us survive or do better in life. Even if people don’t actually meditate as much as ‘they should’, we all love telling others to do something that is actually pretty hard to do without seriously excellent guidance or group support. Plus, meditation can make people feel good, but leave them hanging a bit when it comes to integration. “But, what does it mean?” “how can I apply what I learnt in yoga to life?” “I don’t want to go all spiritual, I just want to sleep better and stop thinking, what can I do?”
This is why I felt it might help to identify activities that offer benefits close to meditation. These activities will provide the maximum benefits when practiced mindfully. Most of these involve another person, unlike meditation which is a mostly internal and solitary activity.
- Colouring is a wonderful way to enhance hand eye coordination and provide eye fixation while coloring. Eye fixation is a fancy term that means that your attention will get super focused on one thing.
- Knitting or crochet. Knitting provides hours of fun and engagement, but the rhythmic activity also slows the brain waves down and calms, especially when you are mindful. Being mindful, ie. Bringing attention to the present moment, can break mindchatter and rumination. Rumination, it turns out, is a pretty negative mental habit, that really sucks of energy and does not create a healthy exchange in a conversation.
- Painting by numbers is a great option if you are not too sure about painting your original piece. The slow, painstaking effort of painting can really help empty the mind and clarify. Basically, our mind chatter is the reason we struggle to feel happier in life. If we can only turn that off, the Universe is ready to listen and provide for our every need. The tricky part is to have a gap in the thought that allows us to respond to the moment, rather than living in the future or past.
- Mindful walking is the most active form of meditation. The simplest thing to pay attention to is the sensation of putting feet on the ground. When we walk slowly, the mind has to catch up and slowing thoughts means less rumination, judging, complaining and mind chatter.
It turns out that negative thinking—with fear, rage, blame uses fast brain waves. Every time we relax and slow our brain waves, it helps us stop ruminating and the negative emotions disappear.
- Yoga helps one to engage muscles with mindful breathing and focus. There are so many benefits of yoga –as it can be called a movement meditation. If you cannot handle mindfulness because it is too hard to open up to the experience so completely, then yoga is a practice worth trying.
- Guided visualization. The candy of meditation, guided visualization gives context to your practice, and helps the brain learn how to relax using just your thoughts. Most of us are so used to thinking the same thoughts over and over, guided relaxation helps break the cycle and create feelings of deep peace and joy. I find that the teacher’s voice and inner state has an impact on the experience for the listeners.
- Water immersion. Soaking in a bath and or floating in water in the dark is an amazing way to clear the mind
- Forest bathing. The name says it all. Being in nature completely clears and refreshes the mind.
- Physical contact. Heart to heart hugs, responsible sex and massage can provide stress reduction benefits.
- Slower, non-competitive forms of sports and exercises. Intense exercises increase stress on the body, whereas a gentler practice will provide stress reduction benefits with less lactic acid or ‘burn’. Notice the emotion and intention with which the exercise is done and choose if possible a calming emotion while exercising. This will retrain your mind and attitude towards effort and help the brain to unlearn anger. Less anger is much healthier for the body.
- Contemplative prayer. Prayer can help focus the mind on one thing, and one pointed mind—a focused mind is a major benefit of meditation.