Have you heard the call of the (meditation) cushion, but put it on hold? Meditation comes with a long list of benefits: it does everything from reshaping your brain to rivalling anti-depressants in effectiveness. But that doesn’t mean people are making a beeline for the zafu (meditation cushions). To disrupt the mind’s habitual pattern is extreme. And for the meditation averse, there’s no way to sugar coat the determination it takes to stop everything and be still.
The struggle is real. So if the very idea of sitting still with your eyes closed, listening to the rise and fall of your breath makes your skin crawl, you may want to ease into meditation. Or you may want to accept that form of awareness practice doesn’t suit you—and find a practice that does.
No need to feel badly if straight up meditation doesn’t work for you; there are many other ways to work with your mind. Here are a few of our favorites:
Guided meditations almost feel like cheating—they literally walk you through a meditation, step by step. For many, it’s an easier entry point than going it alone. They are especially helpful if you want a more soothing voice in your head than your own.
Guided meditations can range from healing to creativity, mindful eating to loving kindness. Typically, they follow a script carefully designed to invoke a calm and peaceful state. Their length can vary, from under five minutes to an hour.
In this style of meditation, instead of focusing on breathing or observing your thoughts, you can tune into the voice of a teacher, who knows the inner terrain well and can guide you on a visualization journey. It can be a live teacher who takes you on the journey or a recording. The beauty of guided meditations is they keep your brain occupied while letting your thoughts slow down and your resistance soften.
Yoga Journal is a good resource—their website has an abundance of guided meditations you can access for free.
Whether it’s Tibetan singing bowls, bells, digeridoos or a personal mantra, sound meditation makes for a dynamic way to find your meditation groove. The idea of sound meditation is that tuning into sound vibrations—actually feeling them with your body—becomes the focal point.
Our fluctuating brainwaves sync up with the frequency of the sound, become absorbed in the rhythm, and then downshift into a more relaxed state. It’s both passive (emptying oneself to receive the sound) and active (participating in the sound’s vibration with one whole body).
Want to go big? These days sound baths—best described as a deliberately paced gong and singing bowl orchestra—are trending. Sound baths take the premise of sound meditation up a notch and become an immersive, all-encompassing experience that can induce an other worldly meditative state.
Described as meditation in action, walking meditation combines small, intentional movements with extreme mindfulness. In a walking meditation, you are not trying to rack up mileage. Rather, you are moving as if through water, paying attention to a process the mechanics of which we tend to take for granted.
As awkward as it sounds—and as ridiculous as it can look to the uninitiated—walking meditation slows down our body, and the mind (in theory) follows. Each step is broken down into four main components: the foot lifting up, the foot moving forward, the foot coming down heel first, and the weight shift that happens as the other foot prepares to lift off.
As you walk, focus on your breathing, your movements or the sensation of contacting the ground. You can also tune into whatever arises in your visual field or the sounds that you hear. When your mind wanders, keep returning to the sensations that are created through your movements. This practice is best done for a minimum of ten minutes, in a quiet and if possible, private place (indoors or in nature).
A meditation practice, no matter the guise, is really a surrender practice. You cede directing the mind and let something deeper than thought inform your awareness. It will grow on you—if you let it. Be consistent with whatever practice works best for you and an inner spaciousness may start to creep into your crowded headspace, making room for unexpected peace and untold pleasures.