5 Ways to be Meditative Without Really “Meditating”

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Baha'i meditationI’ve always been intrigued by the idea of meditation, both from a spiritual and scientific perspective.

Meditation is said to be the key to “opening the doors of mysteries,” and is a way to free your mind from everything so that you can “become so pure as to reflect the stars of heaven”—which frankly sounds pretty cool.

Meditation has also been found to have some pretty interesting physiological effects, such as improving cognitive function, strengthening the immune system and alleviating symptoms of hypertension, diabetes, and anxiety, among others. A study at Harvard found that practices “such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing and prayer” actually change the expression of your genes.

I like the idea of being more in tune, more inwardly assured, and more physically awesome. But I also have a short attention span and hate schmaltzy stuff. I’m not sure I’m cut out sitting in an ashram for 12 hours, or hot yoga, or even sitting quietly for 20 minutes in a comfortable chair—that’s just not my style. If I’m going to do meditation, I’m going to do it my way. Each according to his capacity, right?

Luckily, there’s no prescribed way to meditate other than freeing your mind. How you get there is up to you. As someone who’s busy, cynical, and a little bit lazy, I’ve taken a very simple (and bite-sized) approach to meditation that makes me feel more centered and more mindful. And best of all, it’s not even a little bit touchy-feely.

Breathe

Breathing is pretty essential. You know, to living. You’re probably doing it right now even if you weren’t aware of it. But sometimes it actually helps to be aware of it. In fact, feeling your breath is a key component in many forms of meditation.

If I’m feeling worried or full of anxiety, I try to do controlled breathing—in through the nose, out through the mouth. To keep my mind focused and calm, I count. In for four seconds, out for four seconds. Repeat ten times. Or however many times you’d like.

Best of all, you can do this on the train during your morning commute, at your desk while at work, or even when you’re watching TV at home. And as a bonus, it’s a stealth activity so no one has to know you’re doing it.

Look

San Francisco FogI spend all day on a computer, and I often fool myself into thinking that browsing the Internet or playing Plants vs. Zombies on my iPhone is “relaxing.” It’s not. Sometimes it can be hard to take some time away from screens, to just look away. Not only is that good for my eyes, but it’s also good for my mind (and probably sanity).

When I can remember to look away from my various screens, I try to take time to just observe my surroundings. Observation is a great way to develop a better sense of mindfulness, and to focus on the present.

Take a moment to look out the window on the bus, or people watch in the park during your lunch break (but not in a creepy way). Sometimes I like to take a few minutes to watch the fog roll in over the bay (but not sunsets—I hate sunsets). Focusing, really looking at your environment, can help you feel calmer, more relaxed and more in tune with the here and now.

Listen

Part of the whole “being glued to screens all day” thing is that I often find that I’m not paying very close attention to anything—especially if someone is talking to me. I may hear what they’re saying, but I’m not always really listening, you know? Either I’m engrossed in something else or letting my mind wander—but either way I’m not fully present.

To remedy this, I’ve been making a huge effort to put down to phone/tablet/eReader/whatever and concentrate on what people are saying to me. Whether or not what’s being said is “important” information, it is important to pay attention.

When you work on listening, really listening, you will feel more focused on the present, less worried about other things, and more connected to the people around you. Focus, in itself, is great practice for being more mindful. Plus, it’s just good manners.

Eat

Baha'i mindfulnessSometimes I eat lunch at my desk. Or dinner while watching TV. I think that maybe I’m not even paying attention to what I’m putting in my mouth—that I’m just going through the motions. And that’s sort of sad, really. Especially when I’m eating pizza. Because pizza is amazing, and should be relished, with gusto. A simple and delicious way to bring a taste of mindfulness into your daily life is to enjoy eating.

My moment of Zen every morning is my first cup of coffee. Sometimes my second. I love the smell, the feel of the warm mug, and most of all the taste. The caffeine is just a bonus. What it all comes down to is enjoying a simple pleasure.

Focus on that sandwich. Savor that cup of tea. Slow down while munching on potato chips. Not only will you enjoy the food more and enjoy being in the moment, you’ll probably be able to better notice when you’re full. It’s not about dieting or giving up mealtime conversations (unless you really want to), but simply taking some time to really notice what you’re eating, and enjoy it.

Walk

Walks are a great way to clear my head, get away from my work and to just move. I like to go for walks during my lunch breaks to break up the monotony of my day, to get some fresh air, and to find solutions to creative blocks.

Look around the neighborhood you’ve seen a hundred times and find something you hadn’t noticed before. Listen to the noises of the city or the birds in the trees. Feel the wind. Breathe deeply.

The key to mindful walking is that there’s no rush, nowhere in particular to go, no need to hurry. Walk at your own pace, in the city or in nature, alone or with others. Enjoy the movement and take in your surroundings, where you are right now.

How do you bring mindfulness into your daily life?

Lindsay McComb is a writer, editor and designer. She lives in Oakland, works in San Francisco and drinks a lot of coffee. Her work can be found at lindsaymccomb.com.