Quit Stressing About Meditation

I’ve always wanted to like meditation. It looks so peaceful, so picturesque—sitting cross-legged as deep breaths filter in and out of a blissfully calm face—it’s the epitome of what I imagine someone who has their life together looks like.

Meditation has stepped into the spotlight as one of the more prevalent types of alternative healing practices in the past few decades. And with its ever-growing list of researched backed benefits, there is no wonder why psychologists agree on its undeniable link to improving mental health.

Not only is meditation known to help relieve symptoms from anxiety, depression, and PTSD; research has found that “participants’ autonomy, creativity, inner satisfaction, alertness, and productivity also increased” after spending time in this calm state of mind. One study even claimed that “meditation can decrease anxiety symptoms as well or better than benzodiazepines, a commonly prescribed medication for anxiety.”

The more studies I read about meditation’s groundbreaking benefits, the more I tried to like it. Yet no matter how hard I tried, what fancy app I used, or comfortable setting I placed myself in—I always snapped back into the real world feeling more or less discouraged at my unfulfilling attempt to reach zen. I felt disappointed in myself. Why couldn’t I just sit without my mind wandering?

After talking with other “meditationally-challenged” friends, I was relieved to discover that I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t peacefully sit still. An hour of online research later, I came to the conclusion that not all hope is lost for us who can’t meditate—lo and behold, there are plenty of other activities that affect the brain similarly to how traditional meditation does.

Researchers define “mindful meditation” as a process that “has been found to harness areas of the brain that control cognition, regulate emotions, and decrease negative thought processes.” Consequently, the results from this “relaxation response” show reduction and regulation in heart rate, breathing, and brain activity.

Following these biological responses, any activity that mimics these effects on our minds can be seen as an alternative way to meditate, allowing those of us who struggle to meditate in a traditional setting to still reap some of its stress-relieving benefits.  These other activities include, but are not limited to:

1. “Muscular Meditation”

Research from Harvard Health found that another way to relieve stress can be achieved through what seems like the opposite of meditation: moving our bodies. Researchers found that “many people find that using large muscle groups in a rhythmic, repetitive fashion works best” to achieve the meditation-like state we get from exercise.  Activities like running, swimming, cycling, yoga, or even simply walking, allow the body to focus on the repetitive movement of muscles and regulation of breath.

2. Reading

Reading is another activity that parallels the way in which meditation occupies the mind. Experts claim that reading “engages imagination and intellect far too much to encourage mind- wandering, except during pauses.” This means that getting swept away into the world of fiction or a page-turning memoir can resemble meditation in its ability to drown out thoughts irrelevant to what we’re reading in the moment.

3. Writing

On the same wavelength as reading, writing also has a way of harnessing our cognition, and requires both a level of introspection and concentration. This similarity of brain function is what links it to sharing some of the same therapeutic benefits that meditation provides.

Meditation is supposed to relieve stress; don’t let the inability of perfecting this practice induce it. No matter the method—whether its running, immersing yourself in the reality of a novel, or letting your thoughts flow freely from your head onto paper—mediation can mold to fit many different shapes, and doesn’t have to constrain itself to the pre-established idealization that defines it.

The act of mediation can seem less daunting once we broaden its definition, and serve to do what it was originally intended to: clear our mind, regulate our breathing, and give us the peace of mind we deserve.

Sources:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax

https://www.psypost.org/2019/09/meditation-linked-to-enhanced-social-cognition-in-new-psychology-research-54496

Moffett, James. “Reading and Writing As Meditation.” Language Arts, vol. 60, no. 3, 1983, pp. 315–332. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41962389.

About the Author

Cameron Gordon Cameron Gordon is a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara pursuing a double major in English and Spanish. Both passionate about writing and promoting the importance of mental health, Gordon aspires to attain a career centered around writing and education.

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