Inhale (Wow, it's hot in here.) … Exhale (Did I turn the stove off?) … Inhale (I'm so hungry right now.) … Exhale (Gotta pick up some tomatoes, mushrooms, and olive oil for dinner tonight.). If this is the kind of inner monologue that runs through your head whenever you try to meditate, it doesn't mean that a mindful practice is not for you. It's just that sitting in lotus position, focusing on the breath, and repeating a mantra over and over and over again might sound straight up boring, even torturous, to some people.
Good news: there's more than one way to meditate. By definition, to meditate is to engage in mental exercise for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness, according to Merriam Webster. In that case, anything that mentally connects you to a higher consciousness works. That could be reveling in your natural surroundings while on your morning run or really taking pleasure in your skincare regimen. Here are five ways to break the meditation mold.
Wake Up Slowly
Your first opportunity to have a mindful moment is first thing in the morning. Try this challenge: when you wake up, don't open your eyes right away. Keep them closed and just be aware of how you feel waking up. Take a few deep breaths. Listen to the birds or even the lawnmowers outside. The point is to experience a little peace before jumping headfirst into the day. It just takes a few minutes, and we promise your emails can wait that long. This should set the tone for greater awareness and focus going forward.
Practice Personal Care Mindfully
Your personal care routine is a pretty ideal time to achieve some meditative bliss. In the shower alone, there are so many opportunities to become enveloped in sensory stimulation, like enjoying the aroma of your shampoo or appreciating the feeling of warm water trickling down your skin. Much better than obsessing over spreadsheets you'll have to finish later. It doesn't end there—the ritual of applying all your favorite oils, creams, and serums is worth drawing out, just for the tactile pleasure alone. Take a cue from Korean beauty culture, which treats multi-step skincare as an essential act of self care.
Clean With Purpose—Or Not
If meditation seems like a chore, cleaning might not be one of your favorite activities either. But hey, it's gotta be done, so you might as well reap some wellness benefits from it. One study found that washing dishes mindfully (noticing the feel of the dishes, the warm water, and the scent of the soap) could decrease nervousness and increase mental inspiration. Just imagine the total zen vibes that are possible if you applied this approach to everything from laundry to tidying the bookshelf to scrubbing the shower. In fact, zen monks know what's up—they have a communal activity called soji, during which everyone cleans for 20 minutes and then stops whether they finish or not. What a way to practice the art of letting go.
Skip the Soundtrack While You Work Out
Next time you hit the trails or gym, leave that iPod at home. Tunes are kind of a distraction from everything awesome that happens when you exercise. Zeroing in on your breathing patterns, heart-rate changes, and muscles working can make you more aware of your body—a good thing especially if you're training for something like a marathon or sports tournament. Also, what's better than running like the wind and actually feeling it against your skin and breezing through your hair? It's the best! No wonder surfers are perpetually stoked—physical activity plus uninterrupted quality time with nature is a perfect combo.
Create a Bedtime Ritual
If relaxing into meditation is not easy for you, then falling asleep without the residual stress from the day (or the impending stress of tomorrow) is probably a challenge, too. This is where a proper wind-down routine can work wonders. It takes some discipline, but it'll be a major boon to your sleep quality, which definitely affects your overall health. First, pick a time to hit the hay that generally works for your lifestyle and try to stick to that each night. Get ready for bed the same way every time. That could look like this: brush teeth, wash face, moisturize, drink water, silence phone, read a book (a real one rather than an e-reader), and slip into slumber (aka a built-in eight-hour savasana). Simple, right?
Wake up, repeat. Chances are, you'll really get the hang of living with purpose and existing in the now—and you never had sit on a meditation pillow to get there after all.