Can't Relax? 10 "Stillness" Alternatives to Meditation
Have you ever experienced: anxiety or stress or worry or overwhelm or racing thoughts or insomnia or moodiness?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you can benefit from a meditation practice.
If you've heard that before and you're honestly sick of people telling you to sit with your thoughts for 20 minutes repeating "OM"... you've come to the write blog post.
Meditation is not an easy practice to get into. I've been on and off with my practice for over two years and I still struggle to keep it consistent. Plus, when I finally get myself into the meditation space - I sometimes can't relax and begin to spiral, filtering through 20 thoughts per second!
That's why I've figured out other ways to incorporate stillness into my day, without doing a formal meditation. I call it stillness because it's a few minutes without distraction, a few minutes without social media, or email, or television playing in the background. It's a few minutes of being STILL. Being still gives your body the chance to take an actual BREAK and get into "rest and digest" mode.
In case you don't know about it, when we're feeling stressed or anxious or any of the above mentioned feelings - our body interprets that as DANGER. The same danger our ancestors felt when they needed to flee from lions, tigers and bears. Our animal bodies want to protect us from this danger, so they activate the sympathetic nervous system or fight or flight mode. Fight or flight mode sends out stress hormones into the body, causing the heart to pump faster to get more blood into your limbs so you can run away from that tiger!
Today that danger looks less like a scary animal and more like work deadlines, Twitter notifications, high intensity workouts, family drama, the news, or I don't know... a pandemic. Our bodies cannot distinguish that you're not in actual danger. However it still shuts down all unnecessary activity (like our digestive system, immune system, and reproductive organs) in the body in order to help you SURVIVE.
So what "stillness" can do for you is turn off that fight or flight mode and activate the parasympathetic nervous system or rest and digest mode. Meditation is just one way to access this mode, there are so many things you can do (which I'm sharing below). The goal is to get your body into the rest and digest mode MORE so your body can recover, digest, think, and function to it's best potential! Stillness doesn't have to look anything like meditation, it's just giving your body a few minutes to be... still.
So again, if you can't relax and you can't sit still but you know you need to activate that rest and digest mode, I've got you covered! Below are a few of my favorite alternatives to meditation along with suggestions from others in the Be Well with Marissa community!
10 "Stillness" Alternatives to Meditation:
Breathing Exercises - Intentional breathing helps you focus on the one thing that never stops... your breath. Following a breathing exercise pattern is a great way to let go of racing thoughts, and activate your parasympathetic nervous system. My favorite form of breathing is the 4-7-8 breathing method. You inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Some others that people have suggested: Alternate nostril breathing, Wim Hof breathing, and lion's breath breathing.
Mindful Walks - Get your movement and stillness all in one! My only rule, no podcasts, no phone calls, no scrolling through social media - just WALK. Music is fine. Just use the time to focus on breathing, your surroundings, and how you're feeling. Let your mind be free of distractions and enjoy the fresh air.
Journaling - When you can't sit still and think about your thoughts, writing them down can be helpful. Writing out all of your thoughts, worries, goals, etc. is a great way to clear your mind and start fresh! You can use prompts like these, or just write about your day.
Practicing Gratitude - This can be combined with journaling. Thinking about what you are grateful for helps draw your mind away from the negatives of the day to focus on the positives. Write or think about 3 things you're grateful for. Bonus points if you share your gratitude with the people you're grateful for!
Showering - Not the rushed 2 minute shower you take scrambling to get ready in the morning. I'm talking about a warm, steamy, calming shower. Hang some fresh eucalyptus in your shower or add a 3-5 drops of essential oil to the wall of the shower for some relaxing aromatherapy.
Yoga - The purpose of yoga to quiet the mind, in order to cultivate a deeper connection to and understanding of yourself. Yoga teaches you to tune into your breath, feel bodily sensations, and begin to accept reality in the present moment. When I began to think of yoga as a way to relax my mind, rather than a workout to move my body - it made me want to do it more!
Coloring/Painting/Art - Creating art, is a great way to free your mind and relax. Adult coloring books have been on the rise, as well as painting classes, and paint-by-number kits! Take some time to unwind with some colorful expression!
Tapping - My new favorite way to reduce feelings of anxiety is tapping. Tapping consists of physically tapping with your fingertips on specific acupressure points while talking and thinking through specific memories and emotions. I use the Tapping Solution app (which offers many free options!) Within 10 minutes I feel a huge release of anxiety! It's pretty amazing.
Being in Nature - You all know I am a huge fan of hiking these days. Being in the mountains, breathing fresh air, being surrounded by nature, being challenged by the uphill and downhill obstacles - it truly feels like a weight is being lifted. Science backs me up, too! Nature has been proven to help with mental and physical wellbeing by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and decreasing the production of stress hormones. I also learned recently that when we are in nature and can see out far into the distance that there are no immediate threats naturally calms our bodies- another animal instinct we all have!
Listening to Music - The right type of music can definitely put your body into "rest and digest" mode. Again, just listen to the music and be fully immersed in it. Most of the time we're listening to music while scrolling through Instagram, with a TV show on in the background. NO - just the music can count as stillness. Allow yourself to feel the vibrations, the lyrics, the harmonies.
Try incorporating some of these stillness practices into your day and feel your stress levels drop! Let's get more "rest and digest" minutes into our day and less "fight or flight".