5 Mindfulness Exercises For the Person Who Can't Sit Still
March 22, 2018
Traditional mindfulness meditation is one of those things that has a barrier to entry—if you don’t already see yourself as someone who could sit still for an extended amount of time, doing so sounds like trying to fall asleep to a TV blaring obnoxious commercials at you. Maybe your inner voice isn’t trying to sell you five cleaning products for the price of one, but it’s not easy to turn off your thoughts to the point of absolute silence.
It’s common to think that meditation only works if you sit still on the floor and think of absolutely nothing, but you don’t have to be absent to be present. The American Psychological Association sees mindfulness as a psychological state of awareness, and meditation is just one of many activities to help you get to that state.
You don’t have to be absent to be present.
According to a Perspectives on Psychological Science study, mindfulness meditation is “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.” Notice that they don’t say anything about sitting still in that definition? That’s because mindfulness meditation works differently depending on your personality. Some may like to sit cross legged in silence, others may prefer a busy task to assist their brains to focus. Me? I’ve always found that drawing is a preferred mindfulness activity, since it requires me to notice every little detail of whatever I’m drawing on the paper.
However your practice it, mindfulness comes with lots of potential benefits—it can help regulate our emotions, reduce stress, and strengthen our focus, according to the American Psychological Association. If you don’t feel like the “meditation type,” it’s important to look into other ways to practice mindfulness.
Here, five ways you can feel in the moment without having to drop everything and do nothing:
1. Get Walking
If sitting still isn’t for you, do the opposite and get walking with a purpose. Mindful.org breaks down a specific kind of a meditation walk, which is all about finding awe in the world around you. This "Awe Walk" is meant to help cultivate that feeling of vast amazement and appreciation for things that are bigger than us.
To take an “Awe Walk,” Mindful.org says to “walk in a place of meaning and beauty, where your sole task is to encounter something that amazes and transcends, be it big or small.” Perhaps your awe walk is through a local wooded trail, your favorite neighborhood in your city, or alongside a body of water. Maybe it’s passing by one of your neighbor’s gardens you’ve always loved or walking to a place that has a special meaning to you. Wherever it is, your goal is to simply be in awe. Take notice, be aware, be mindful.
Take a look at the trees, the pavement beneath your feet, and the sounds around you. How would you describe what you’re experiencing to someone who wasn’t there? What do you notice that you hadn’t before?
Mindful.org also suggests that if you find yourself daydreaming or getting caught up in your thoughts, try listening to the inhale and exhale of your breath.
2. Have a Daily Mindful Activity
Mindfulness is less daunting—and more likely to become a habit—when it’s integrated with things you already do every day. Maybe when you brush your teeth, you narrow in on the sounds of the brushing or the way the bathroom tiles feel when you stand at the sink. Or, when you’re doing laundry at the laundromat, you let yourself focus on the repetitive sounds of the dryer tumbling around. The goal is to pick something you already do, but bring extra focus to each step of the activity.
Pick something you already do, but bring extra focus to each step of the activity.
3. Bring Mindfulness to Work
If your work schedule is chaotic, try taking mindfulness breaks during the workday. During your 15 minute break, find a quiet spot in a backroom or outside to breathe and bring awareness to how you’re feeling in the present moment. Or, count your steps and pay attention to new details when you get up from your desk to grab water or coffee. These small moments can act as a restart to your mind and will help you feel more aware when you return to your computer or shift position.
4. Try a Guided Meditation App
Sometimes the traditional conception of meditation seems nonspecific and too vague. Meditating without any kind of guidance can also make you wonder if you’re doing things right. One way to find some guidance without signing up for an expensive meditation retreat in the woods is to download a meditation app.
Shine’s free iOS app includes interactive meditations that actually ask how you’re doing, and give you a specific exercise based on what you say. It’s a way to feel mindful without feeling ignored or generalized. The app also gives you advice and guided meditations based on your situation. Feeling stressed? Overwhelmed? Lost? Perhaps all three? Shine has a guided meditation for that.
5. Drive Your Way to Mindfulness
Eric Langshurt and Nate Klemp, PhD., co-authors of Start Here -- Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing, recommend a mindfulness technique they call Notice-Shift-Rewire. The best part? It takes place on the road, so you can integrate it into your daily commute.
Basically, the technique revolves around three steps: Noticing something, shifting your perspective, and rewiring your thinking.
The two authors give an example involving a stop sign. When you approach the stop sign, notice the sign and what it’s asking you to do. Then shift your behavior and your awareness to the activity. As you bring your car to a full stop, let yourself pay full attention to the activity as if you were a 15-year-old preparing for your driving test all over again. Finally, rewire your thinking after you continue driving past the stop sign (safely, of course. You are driving after all). Think to yourself, “I’m driving here. Right here, right now.”
Hopefully, you’ll travel on a little more mindful.