Although meditation has an encyclopedic record of health benefits, particularly stress reduction and its positive effects on weight loss, it’s still not yet become a mainstream practice.
I’m the perfect example of someone who clearly understands the benefits, but have never incorporated it into my life on a regular basis long enough to make it meaningful and productive..
I actually learned how to meditate more than 50 years ago!
I learned the transcendental mediation technique from the meditation master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi himself. It was an initiation where I was given a sacred mantra, never to be shared, and instructed to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day.
Decades later there are many approaches, interpretations and types f meditation practices from which to chose.
I’ve even downloaded apps on my iPhone to lead me through a variety of guided meditations, both short and long.
They sit on my phone unopened.
I keep telling myself to explore them. Experiment with them. But, as of yet, I haven’t made the time to revisit meditation..
So I was intrigued to read about alternatives to meditation that ,according to science, lower stress, anxiety and can be remarkably relaxing.
Since it’s long been recognized that stress hormones can accelerate weight gain and make weight loss harder, every practice that can reduce stress is worth a closer look.
The Japanese value shinrin-yoku to encourage relaxation.
Shinrin-yoku translates as “forest bathing.” Just as you might immerse yourself in a soothing and relaxing bath, you immerse yourself in a soothing and relaxing forest.
Instead of soaking in the warm water, you soak in the sights, sounds and smells of nature. And that time outside has a positive, restorative effect on your health and well-being.
Let Mother Nature nurture you.
Nearly 40 years ago, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries proposed incorporating shinrin-yoku into daily life, and began designating national forest bathing reserves. Today, the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine continues to promote research on forest medicine and the benefits of forest bathing.
One of the wonderful things about forest bathing is that it’s incredibly easy. You don’t need any special training or gear – in fact, you don’t even need a forest! The practice is all about opening your senses, leaving your worries behind and connecting with nature, whether that’s a forest trail, a city park or your own backyard.
When you’re outside, start by pausing, taking a deep breath and focusing on the sensations around you.
What do you see, smell, hear, taste and feel?
Don’t rush through the experience – really explore what your five senses are telling you.
Walk at a leisurely pace, with no destination or real goal. Let your body guide you. And keep your phone in your pocket – or better yet, leave it behind. The more you concentrate on what’s around you, the more fully you’ll feel the mental clarity and physical restoration that forest bathing brings.
Norwegians practice their version called Friluftsliv (pronounced free-loofts-LEEV).
This translates into English as “Free Air Life.”
This is the practice of spending time outside to gain perspective, connect with nature and roam freely in the open air.
Friluftsliv is such an essential part of Norwegian life that Norway allows everyone free access to walk, hike or camp anywhere they like in the country.
This public policy was codified into law with the 1957 Outdoor Recreation Act. Even in Norway’s long, dark, snowy winters, the practice of friluftsliv celebrates getting outside and making the most of the outdoors – no matter the weather.
But if outdoor activities , especially in winter weather, are not your cup of tea, there are even easier options for you to consider trying.
Dr. Younes Henni explains a few easier options to achieve states of stress reduction similar to those achieved via meditation.
One of the easiest alternatives to meditation is “optic flow”.
Optic flow happens when things move past your eyes. For example, you’re in optic flow when you walk, jog, or ride a bike. But also when you gaze out a window of a moving vehicle: a train, a bus, or a car.
You can even engage in optic flow by sitting still and watching things move past your eyes. For example, whenever you watch a river stream, a water cascade, or drifting clouds.
Optic flow is relaxing because it lowers activity in the amygdala. This brain region is the centre of anxiety, fear, and threat detection. And while the amygdala helps us evade predators and all sorts of danger, it pushes us to overreact in everyday’s situations.
Andrew Huberman, a Stanford University neuroscientist, tells how he injects optic flow into his routine:
“For me, taking a walk each morning is not about exercise or burning calories. It’s about getting into optic flow and reducing amygdala activation. It helps me become alert, without feeling anxious.” — Excerpt from the Huberman podcast.
The science is clear: walking, biking, driving a car, or watching waterfalls calms your mind and lowers anxiety.
Another easy alternative to meditation is spending time in green spaces just observing.
Trees, plants, and flowers have remarkable benefits for the mind and body.
Surrounded by cherry blossoms, green grass, and a pond, they sat calmly and absorbed the scenery for 10 to 15 minutes a day. All the while, scientists monitored their body functions. They found the results of the experiment exciting. Participants start experiencing:
- Reduced blood pressure.
- Reduced levels of anxiety, depression, and anger.
- Lower heart rates.
- Higher positive mood.
Participants reported feeling “refreshed”.
“Viewing urban parks results in physiological and psychological relaxation.” Concludes the authors of one of the studies.
Whether you’re young or old, make it a habit to spend time in parks or urban forests. This can lower your stress, anxiety, and even improve your physical health.
The third alternative to meditation is simply window-gazing.
Have you ever wondered why hotels charge more money for a sea-view room? Or why we tend to prefer office space with windows?
It turns out, yearning for windows has real mental and physical benefits.
Office windows are a big deal. They improve both workplace culture and job satisfaction. In contrast, windowless offices offer no information about the outside world. This can make their occupiers feel isolated, depressed and anxious.
Windows help patients recover faster. People undergoing intensive therapy with access to windows had better memory, orientation, and fewer hallucinations than those in windowless units.
Windows offer daylight, scenery, and information about the weather. And because they brighten rooms, windows help you perceive your surroundings better. As a result, you feel safer and in control.
It’s not surprising that windows with great views are among the most requested features in homes and office buildings.
Relieving stress and maintaining your equilibrium help make weight loss easier.
While I encourage you to explore meditation as a tried and true stress management practice, spending time in the magnificent great outdoors is a sure-fire stress buster,
- If you have access to a nearby park or green space, spend more time in it.
- If you’ve got a break, take a walk or go for a ride.
- Gaze out of windows at beautiful scenery whenever you can.
Simple as they are, these practices might improve your mental and physical well-being as much as mediation. Perhaps even more as they are easier to incorporate into your daily life.
As you reduce the stress in your life, let’s go for everything you really want.
And, please believe me, it’s never too late and you’re never too old to go after it ALL!
Let me know what you’re longing to create in 2022. I ‘m here to help you navigate all the challenges and overcome the obstacles.
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