5 Relaxing Alternatives If You Don’t Like Meditation


It is estimated that between 200 and 500 million people around the world meditate. Its popularity continues to soar as techniques become more accessible through popular mobile applications such as Calm and Headspace and guided meditation practices on YouTube. Rather than being reserved for the stereotypical cross-legged hippy, meditation has become commonplace for a lot of people. Science has backed the benefits. And it seems no one can refute that meditation has the power to solve a lot of the world’s health issues – both physical and mental.

This would almost lead us to wonder why we don’t all take this time (even as little as five minutes has shown to be effective) to just “be.” It is exactly this, however – the notion of just “being” – that is problematic for many.  

Those who, on paper, would derive the greatest health improvements from meditation are likely to feel overwhelmed by the mere idea of it. 

The concept of being still with our thoughts, which underpins a lot of traditional meditative practices, can be challenging. This is particularly true if you are struggling with anxiety.

It is important to reiterate that meditation doesn’t always focus on breathwork and scanning our internal landscape. There are meditations that allow us to focus on the environment around you. These “exteroceptive” (that’s a fun word to say) practices might be more suitable for those who are not quite ready to observe their thoughts.

At the heart of any meditation is the concept of mindfulness. That is, the art of being present. Thankfully for those either not sold on meditation or for those unable to, there are a number of alternatives that you can try to relax the body and mind which, in this stress-filled world, can only serve to help us. 

In a way, they are all forms of meditation. But what differentiates them from conventional meditation practice is that they allow us to focus on something outside of ourselves, which is often the greatest obstacle for participants.

1. Forest bathing

The term emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku. The idea was to offer an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout which, given our current dependency on technology, might be more necessary than ever. 

Contrary to how it sounds, the practice does not involve lathering ourselves in leaves and soaking in mud, but rather using our senses to explore the natural world around us. It could be the chirping of birds, the sensation of a breeze, or the sight of a blue sky. A 2019 study showed that spending at least 20 to 30 minutes immersed in  nature was associated with a huge drop in cortisol levels (stress hormone), which will have a clear knock-on effect on our physical well being.

2. Mindful chores

Anything labelled a chore carries a negative connotation. But what if we were able to use this time not only to achieve practical tasks, but to strengthen our minds through mindful practice? A now famous article, “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind,” found that people thinking about what is not happening instead of thinking about what is happening were typically unhappy. 

The takeaway is that mindful engagement in a task – even when it is mundane – leads to better outcomes than when our minds are wandering. So, the next time you wash the dishes, try focusing on the scent of the bubbles and the feel of the soap. You might actually find yourself feeling more relaxed than if you were fantasising of a sunny vacation.

3. Journaling

A huge part of traditional meditation involves observing our thoughts without judgement. Typically, you’d imagine them floating like clouds without attaching any meaning to them. This can be challenging for people suffering from intrusive thoughts and has the potential to lead to further focus on unwanted thoughts. 

Journaling provides another means of examining our thoughts. The act of “brain-dumping” allows you to transfer fears out of your head and onto a page. This makes it easier to let go of things that you can’t control. Studies show that time spent journaling about our thoughts and feelings can even lead to a reduction in the number of sick days we take off work.

4. Music

A great way to incorporate some mindfulness into a daily practice for those who can’t tolerate the silence is through music. Neurological researchers have found that listening to music triggers the release of neurochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin that play a role in brain function and mental health. 

When mindfully listening to music, you can track specific parts of the music, be it the rhythms, lyrics or specific instruments. And this way, you train the mind to stay in the present moment. The songs will largely vary from person to person, but BBC Radio 4 recommends these six tracks as a starting point to help you unwind.

5. Colouring

Colouring provides a fun, yet soothing solution for those in need of some downtime. The repetitive motions alongside exposure to certain colours is said to calm the amygdala, the part of the brain related to the fear/stress response, while stimulating the parts of the brain responsible for creativity and logic.  

Psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation Media Advisor Michele Goldman notes that “Creating artwork has always been a healthy means of working through emotional content.” Colouring, whether freehand or in colouring book form, allows us to let go of negative emotions instead of holding on to them, enhancing our ability to heal.

Meditation is a powerful tool, but, for some people, it can have a counterintuitive effect. The key is to find a practice that works for you even if it does not fall into the typical domain of what we consider “meditation.” The truth is taking any time to yourself is going to have benefits. 

In today’s tech-driven world, it is easy to use free time to mindlessly scroll through social media or to binge the latest Netflix true crime documentary. Instead, take a portion of this time to live in the present. The benefits will far outweigh anything you can gain from learning about another serial killer or the latest TikTok craze. 

Feature Image by Radu Florin on Unsplash


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