How to Meditate without Meditating

by Helen

We all know that we should be mediating. Countless western and eastern medical professionals are now recognizing the health benefits of practicing mediation and the healing properties and calming effects on our body. This is now a fact! However, what many people may not know is that you do not actually have to “meditate” to meditate. Did you know that? I didn’t. For years I thought mediation mean sitting cross legged, with palms facing up chanting “ommmmmmm” in a room of complete silence and clear my mind of all thoughts. My belief was further enforced when I started practicing yoga. If you have taken a yoga class, you would most likely hear this line: “Close your eyes take a deep breath and clear your mind of all thoughts.”  This was the line that I heard thousands of times from yoga instructors and mediation videos on YouTube. There is just no way that I can clear my mind of all thoughts. At any given time, the mind thinks between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day which averaging 2,500 to 3,300 thoughts per hour. Good luck clearing all thoughts

Like a good student, I tried and tried but never able to clear my mind of all thoughts. I tried to focus one just 1 single thought like a strawberry. Not 5 second later, my pesky little mind stepped and said, “Ok, strawberry. Really, Helen!  This is getting too weird/boring/out there…. I need to stop.” If this sound familiar, don’t feel bad. I didn’t grasp this whole meditation thing for years, so you are not alone. I tried fruitlessly to mediate, got really frustrated before I worked up the courage to contact a life coach.   Before you roll your eyes at me (Karen did at first), a life coach is different from a therapist or psychiatrist. Spare me 1 minute here! A life coach work with their clients to help them achieve goals, overcome obstacles and make changes in their lives. A psychiatrist can prescribe medicine that makes you feel better for a while but a life coach can help you come up with action plans that create permanent change. You know my life story. I seek my life coach because I was traumatized with my Devil Wears Panda boss not just because I couldn’t mediate. I am not that hopeless. There are many life coaches with different specialization, but I picked Kate because she specializes in mediation.

Meditation 101

In my first session with my life coach, she told me: “you can’t clear your mind, the brain never stops”.  Say what? So I was misled all these years? You don’t need to clear your mind of all thoughts? I don’t have to emulate the Buddha’s 49-day retreat to mediation? I now have a bone to pick with those yoga instructors. What my life coach shared next was eye opening but also very logical. Meditation is an ancient technique to rest the mind and attain a state of consciousness. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within. Meditation’s goal is to focus the mind on one thing. It is NOT about clear the mind of all thoughts. Our minds tend to wander. So, when your mind wanders much like out of control puppy or teenage, the meditation isn’t a failure per say. Catching it and putting it back to the object of focus is the mediation.

Try with me.

  • Close your eyes and take deep breathe
  • Feel your belly with fresh air
  • Then exhale
  • Stay focus on sensation of air coming in and out of your body
  • Your naughty little mind starts to wander. Humm…let’s see… I have a sale presentation tomorrow. How will it go? Will I kick it out of the park or will I tank?
  • Stay focus! Let’s acknowledge that you think about the sale presentation
  • Don’t linger any longer on the sales presentation. Don’t think about the sales decline or how you can spin this into a positive thing and on and on
  • Just tell your wandering mind:  Yes, sales meeting tomorrow. Now leave me be!
  • Refocus! Inhale and then exhale

Sound simple right?  It took me 3 months of practice to get the hang of it.  In the beginning, I repeatedly went down the rabbit hole. My mind kept running into silly thoughts like an uncontrollable teenager. Frustrated, I talked to my life coach and she offered another technique. First, she asked about my hobby? Seriously coach? I couldn’t focus so how can my hobby help me to focus? But I figured “honestly is the best policy” when you needed mental health support. So I came clean. My hobby has been cross stitching and colouring for over a decade now.  No joke! I have an obscene amount of colouring books much thanks to Joanna Bashford. Upon hearing my confession of cross stitching and colouring obsession, my life coach smiled: “Well, then you are already practicing meditation is a small form”. Say what?   How is stitching and colouring is a form of mediation?   

She explained that hobbies such as coloring, embroidering gardening could relieve daily pressure of life because they are relaxing exercise that can take your mind off of other things and focus on task at hand. Well, how about that? Colouring and cross-stitching equals meditation. I researched further into this topic and found studies indicated the following benefits:

  1. The brain get relief by entering a meditative state
  2. Possibility lower stress and anxiety
  3. Positive thoughts triumph over negative thoughts during this time
  4. Achieving mindfulness by being in the present

Woohoo! Who knew!

Here are recommended hobbies to for consideration… 

Colouring

Colouring is one of my all-time favourite hobby and the medical professional is with me on this. I found that reputable health care professional support colouring as form of mediation too.  In a Medical Daily article, Dr. Stan Rodski, a neuropsychologist said that “coloring elicits a relaxing mindset, similar to what you would achieve through meditation.” He added that “like meditation, coloring allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus on the moment. Tasks with predictable results, such as coloring or knitting, can often be calming.” Yes, that’s the magic. When I colour, my mind is focused on the task and everything seems to quiet down and fade away.  Just me, the colour pencils and an image shut down all the noises in my head.  It is extra fun for me when the little monster (my niece) and I work on a piece together. Team work, baby!

Cross Stitching or embroidery 

Yes, I am a cross-stitching enthusiast. I am openly admitted to this. Out and proud of my cross-stich! It stated in my 20 and I still love it. This hobby of mine annoys my mom to no end. She can’t understand why I love it so much. The funny thing is: she is a seamstress. It is a case of pot calling kettle black. Similar to colouring, stitching or embroidering focus your mind on a single task. For the cross-stitcher, it is about counting the number of stiches. Nothing else enters my mind, just the patterns, needle and threads.  My mind fills with the colours of the threads and the needle movement.  Then slowly, a beautiful image begins to emerge on the fabric…. Say no more, I am relaxed now. Basically, if you are looking for a way to find your inner zen while also exploring your artistic side, look no further folks! Coloring books are here to help you destress. Your inner child would be so proud and happy. HaHH

Gardening

Just for the record, I don’t do gardening. I like nature but I have the tendency to kill nature. Karen said that I have red thumb after I managed to kill my cactus plant after 2 months. My power of nature destruction is that strong; I killed a succulent in the process of trying to grow it. Second, I have a serious case of dirt allergy. Needless to say, I now grow fabric and plastic plan as house décor. Karen doesn’t have patience or mind set of a gardener either. Her idea of gardening is to buy them.

Strangely, my mother is the gardener in the family. She loves to prune and take care of the roses. Gardening makes her happy and restful. Similar to colouring or cross-stitching, the repetitive tasks of planting, weeding, trimming, pruning and so on help to focus her mind. My mother is a constant worrier, incredibly stubborn and driven person. Karen gets those traits from our mom (though Karen would never admit to this). For someone who has deadly combo of worrisome, stubborn streak and drive to success, gardening is a very fitting meditation method because they are doing something productive (which satisfy their crazy thirst to success at everything) but it has calming effort on their minds.

Here are some unconventional approaches to mediation. Try these out!

  • Running or walking without iPod. Taking from your favourite tunes can help you keep a steady pace and become more aware of your body movement. You will feel your feet against the ground and hear what’s happening around you. Breathing in synch with the rhythm of your footsteps may also help you to regulate your breath and stay focus.
  • Cooking. For some (not me) cooking is relaxation. Try out these tips and see if this is more your thing. Karen tried cooking with intention and she agreed that cooking could be relaxing but only when she had time and nothing disruptive around. A rarity for Karen because her mini-me is one explosive and disruptive fireball who constantly hanging around her mamma.
  • Zen in shower. Before you start laughing or have some funny thoughts, it is totally legitimate mediation approach.  Karen swears by this. She does shower mediation.

See, you can manifest an informal practice within your daily habits. No need to change your routine drastically. All it takes is small tweaking of your intention. There are many ways to help your busy mind rest, calm down and relax. The mind is also a muscle, it you are working it constantly without breaks, then guess what: it will break at one point. Give your hard working and uncontrollable mind a break every day.  Zen it out in the shower, cook some delicious dishes with intention, running around the park, colouring, cross-stitching or gardening till your mind content. There is no one size fit all for meditation. What work for me may not work for you. So find the meditation approach that work for you. Experience with few and find the ones that work for you. My last advice is to be patience. Rome wasn’t built yesterday and so it meditation practice. Be patience and stick with it. I hope you find your inner zen. As always, write to me.  Love to hear from you.

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