Abraham’s eyes lit up when he learned that I meditate.
This old acquaintance of mine loves to dance freely at local reggae concerts. His waistlong dreadlocks sway, as he absorbs the blaring music.
That day, though, he was calmly sweeping his porch. He confessed his struggles with meditation: I can’t sit still… My thoughts won’t stop, I don’t know what to do!
I reassured him he was meditating correctly. The fact that Abraham noticed his racing thoughts was proof.
He heaved a sigh of relief. Being aware of our inner chaos eventually soothes our mind.
Many people begin sitting meditating to relieve stress, improve relationships or develop compassion. But anyone who has tried meditating experiences obstacles, like physical pain, restlessness and doubt.
And sometimes, those obstacles are enough to make us throw up our hands in frustration.
But meditation doesn’t have to be so hard. We don’t even have to sit cross-legged on a cushion.
These 10 simple alternatives to sitting meditation will surely entice you to maintain this vital practice.
1) Be present during any activity
Any act can become mindfulness meditation, but sitting meditation offers a different quality of stillness.
External movements may indeed distract us from observing our mind’s movements. The mind constantly jumps between past and future, desire and resistance.
How can it be helpful to include activities in our meditation?
For many of us, our lives consist of flitting from one task to another. A sudden halt, even if it lasts 10 minutes, can deeply unsettle us.
It’s better to ease into complete stillness by simply becoming more present throughout the day.
Any activity will do: gardening, cooking, cleaning, dog walking, running, listening to music and even during sex!
Avoid staying busy to escape reality though. Just like in sitting meditation, the goal is to acknowledge your thoughts, emotions and sensations.
2) Eat mindfully
Meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn uses the Raisin Meditation in his research-based stress reduction program.
It only takes 5 minutes. First, hold the raisin in your palm. Examine the raisin, as if it were the first time you’ve seen it. Explore its texture with your fingers.
Then, smell the raisin. Pay attention to the aromas and any sensations in your mouth or stomach. Gently place the raisin in your mouth and feel the texture with your tongue.
Finally, take one or two bites into the raisin. Notice the ebb and flow of sensations. Can you feel the desire to swallow the raisin? Swallow the raisin and acknowledge how your body feels.
Eating mindfully helps us enjoy our food more, avoid overeating or emotional eating and cultivate gratitude.
3) Lie down
My aunt, a yoga teacher, showed me how to meditate while lying down.
I had never met her before, since she lived in Vietnam—a 15-hour flight from my home in southern California.
That first night at the hotel, she absolutely insisted on teaching me “how to breathe”, as she called it:
Lie down on the floor or bed, with your knees bent. Place your hands on your stomach to more easily notice your breath.
Take a deep breath and feel your stomach swell. Release the breath and feel your stomach fall. Do 9 more rounds.
If your mind wanders off, bring it back to your breath (and hands). You might get sleepy, but that’s okay. Always return to the breath.
My aunt recommends practicing this meditation up to 10 times per day for maximum results.
4) Keep an emotion diary
Becoming aware of our inner experience is the first step to calming our mind and regulating our emotions.
But sometimes, sitting with our mental chaos can be extremely disturbing, especially if we’re not used to it.
Keeping an emotion diary helps us to clearly see our racing thoughts—literally, on paper. Our worries somehow become less intense and more manageable with a bit of space.
So, observe which situations prompt an emotional reaction. Describe them in detail. Identify the thoughts, interpretations, emotions and physical sensations.
What did you make the event to mean about you?
5) Record yourself
If you don’t have time to write in a journal, try audio journaling.
Some people like to record themselves while they drive to work or get ready in the morning. All you need is your voice and a voice recorder (e.g. your phone).
You might feel awkward talking into a recorder in the beginning. But the gained insight will be worth it.
The structure of an audio journal entry could be anything you’d like. For example, start with 3 things you’re grateful for, specify a small goal for the day, then let your thoughts flow.
Listen to your recording and reflect on it at the end of the day.
6) Make art
When we spontaneously make art, we tap into our unconscious and deepen our understanding of ourselves.
Creating art bypasses the filter of the left side of the brain (where logical and analytical thinking happens). Which then lets us access repressed thoughts and memories that need our care.
It can be a powerful way to express, release and heal emotional pain.
I enjoy making digital collages with this free tool to express feelings when words won’t do.
Check out my 5-minute collage below. It’s about how we create our own mental prison and keep ourselves from crossing the river towards peace.
7) Take photos of beautiful things
The first homework assignment in my high school photography class was to take photos of beautiful things in my neighborhood.
Initially, I thought, My neighborhood’s boring. There isn’t anything beautiful.
My family and I often took walks in the evening after dinner. I knew what the neighborhood looked like… or so I thought.
Right when I stepped outside, I noticed our garden hose lazily lying on the driveway. It looked like a meandering snake. Click!
Then, I walked a block and noticed a pot of red geraniums just behind some iron gates. The contrast intrigued me. Click!
I realized beauty was all around me. It was just a matter of being present.
8) Take up knitting
“Knitting grounds me in the realness of the physical world. The feel of the yarn in my fingers, the steady growth of the fabric, the soothing click of the needles, the attention required to stay on course all help to hold me close to terra firma.” —Susan Gordon Lydon
In The Knitting Sutra, author Susan Gordon Lydon tells her story of how knitting taught her how to let go and embrace our interconnectedness.
The art of handicrafts in general come from a pre-industrial world, where “one had the leisure to sink deeply and profoundly into the rhythms of nature within and without and to feel a connection with the earth as a living spiritual entity”.
In short, engaging with a craft demands us to slow down.
The repetitive gestures create a soothing rhythm that eases the mind and anchors us in the present moment.
9. Try somatic movement
Teacher Thomas Hanna coined the term “somatics” in 1970 to describe techniques that increase awareness via movement.
Somatic practices help us explore unconscious emotions and release them from our bodies. It may sound similar to yoga, tai chi or qi gong, but somatic practices were only developed in the last 100 years or so.
For example, have you heard of rolfing, Body-Mind Clearing or the Alexander technique?
They all teach us how to dialogue with our bodies, so that we can move more easily and reach our full potential.
10) Enjoy an acupuncture session
I usually get an acupuncture session at the beginning of each season (especially winter and summer).
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, practitioners advise us to do so to keep our immune system robust and prepare for the energetic shift.
This seasonal ritual has become a treat and a meditation in itself.
Just like sitting meditation, I get into a half-awake state, where my mind quiets down and focuses on the relaxing sensations. Sometimes, my thoughts wander, so I acknowledge them without judging.
It’s a wonderful moment to go within.
Pick your alternative to sitting meditation
My acquaintance, Abraham, grinned: Hey, so I can meditate while I sweep my porch?
I winked and replied, You got it!
Ultimately, any activity can be a gateway to our inner experience.
We simply need to become more present.
That’s what meditation is all about… No more, no less.
Further reading on alternatives to sitting meditation: