“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.”
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Some people have no desire to meditate, and others (who may have given it a good go) simply don’t enjoy it. At the end of the day, meditation is like any other exercise or endeavour - it isn’t for everyone. It might not be appropriate for some people struggling with personal difficulties, and it might not be something our friends or family have any interest in exploring.
Chatting to a friend the other day, they mentioned a realisation that Brene Brown has written about - that meditation is really practicing the art of paying attention. Thich Nhat Hanh has a great quote which I posted on Instagram last week about this too, it has been a theme that has come up a few times for me recently.
If meditation is paying attention to what is present, if it is stopping and looking deeply or simply resting in the moment - then there are other ways we can get in touch with this feeling. Taking a moment to be mindful, or getting stuck into an activity that shifts us into the zone, the flow, that wonderful focused mindset, can still be hugely beneficial for the brain. (In fact there’s a really interesting book all about it).
At times, even those of us who do enjoy meditating need a break from formal practice. Our energy ebbs and flows, we might be unwell or tired or upset or traveling. Luckily, we can pay attention to the present moment and practice being aware of what is happening right now in other ways too.
Here are 9 of my favourite alternative mindful activities for you to try:
Get yourself to a class, or practice online with a YouTube video or via one of the oniline yoga providers. Moving the body in time with the breath can be a beautiful way to come into the present moment. If you’re in Sydney, come say hi and practice with me if you like!
2. Guided body scan.
A great alternative for days when you feel exhausted, or unwell, or restless. There are plenty of excellent sources for guided practices, including Insight Timer and others listed on my round up post here.
3. Progressive relaxation technique.
This is a great practice to help you relax when you feel anxious or can’t sleep. Here are some instructions if you want to give it a try.
4. Purposeful, mindful, rhythmic breathing.
Sometimes all we need are a few deep breaths. You might try simply inhaling to a count of 4, pausing for a moment, then exhaling to a count of 4, and pausing for a moment before the next inhale.
This was something I learned from a teacher at a one day retreat in Sydney last year - the simple art of paying close attention to the world around us as we go out for a walk. If you want to try a more formal walking practice, I recommend Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions here. Otherwise next time you go for your walk - see if you can notice, really notice, all the colours you can see, sounds, smells and the feel of the sun and wind against your skin.
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
~ Henry Miller
6.Making things with your hands.
Knitting, braiding, painting, woodwork or cooking - find a hobby that has you creating with your hands. I love to bake, and recently jumped on the mindful colouring in trend - both are excellent ways to get lost in the moment, caught up with the task at hand.
Quiet, rythmic breathing and steady exercise combine for a relaxing and energising way to move the body. There’s nothing quite like an ocean swim either, something I am yet to do this year!
8. Sacred pause.
This is a phrase from Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance. We can take a sacred pause at any moment in our day, and use it to come back to the present moment by checking in with how we feel and what is here for us right now. I love Tara’s explaination of this, and highly recommend reading the whole book.
“A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal. The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life.”
~ Tara Brach
9. Listening to music.
Just put on your favourite song, find somewhere quiet to sit and really pay attention. Music has such power to shift our mood or make us feel a certain way, sometimes one great song is all I need to help me feel a little lighter or more relaxed.
These are just a few of my suggestions based on personal experience, I’m sure you can think of others too!
Whether it’s surfing, drawing, singing or writing - we can all benefit from time lost in the flow of deep concentration, or a gentle pause for a moment of rest.
Mindfulness in the everyday - quiet, present and paying attention.