Becoming More Mindful: Alternatives to Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are everywhere today, and for good reason. Detaching from your inner voice and learning to live in the present can improve your mood and how you react to life’s challenges.

I was first introduced to the concept of mindfulness by a counselor I was seeing in 2011. I was struggling with some things in my personal life, and my mind seemed to be playing a continuous loop of the same thoughts. I would replay conversations over and over, unable to stop analyzing them. While I’d always had a bit of a tendency to do this, even as a child, it had become much worse. At times, I was unable to focus on my work because of it. These ruminations were leading me into depression.

When my counselor mentioned mindfulness, I didn’t really understand what she was talking about. I ordered a short book on Amazon, but I don’t think I read the whole thing, and even after reading part of it, I still didn’t really get what mindfulness was or how it could help me. Then a friend suggested I read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. The central message conveyed – that the present moment is all we ever have – really clicked with me for the first time. I have my criticisms of Tolle, along the lines of those discussed by Dan Harris in his book 10% Happier, but The Power of Now was what I needed to read at that moment, and it really changed the way I looked at the world.

Though I was only in my twenties, I became keenly aware of how short life is and how everything can change in an instant. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I realized that by focusing so much on the past and the future, I was keeping myself from enjoying the present.

Another key takeaway from The Power of Now is that thoughts are just thoughts. They are not necessarily true, and you are not your thoughts. Rather, you can become a conscious observer of your thoughts, allowing them to flow in and out of your mind without reacting to them or attaching yourself to them. This concept and practice is incredibly useful in everyday life.

Of course, these ideas are not original; they are derived from ancient Buddhist teachings. But Tolle and other modern self-help gurus have popularized them of late, creating a broader awareness. Mindfulness and meditation are now appearing in scientific research, corporate retreats, elementary schools, and even judicial conferences. Mindfulness is touted as a way to be happier, calmer, more effective, to overcome addictive behaviors, and more.

Still, many people who are curious about meditation and mindfulness don’t really have a clear idea of what those things mean or how to incorporate them into their lives. The thought of sitting in a cross-legged pose for thirty minutes a day trying to quiet your mind can be intimidating and will seem to some like a waste of time. Here are a few other simple, quick ways you can add more mindfulness into your life.

1. Set a Mindfulness Bell

You can find a free online mindfulness bell at At the beginning of my workday, I set the bell to sound randomly at 30- to 60- minute intervals (you can also specify the intervals, i.e., once an hour). When the bell goes off, I stop what I’m doing and take five deep breaths. I often close my eyes, though sometimes I stand and gaze out the window instead. I focus on the breath entering and leaving my body, feeling my belly expand and deflate. Sometimes I think the words “in” on the inhale and “out” on the exhale, and other times I think “one, one, two, two,” etc., as I count my breaths.

2. Observe Your Surroundings

The next time you find yourself with time on your hands – when you’re waiting for someone to meet you at a restaurant or when you’re sitting in a waiting room before an appointment – resist the urge to look at your phone. Instead, look around and notice what you are seeing. Observe the people nearby, the colors of the decor, the sounds you hear, the smells – take it all in. You might be surprised by what you notice.

3. Go to Yoga Class

I find that my mind is much more ready to meditate after a yoga class than if I just sit down and try to meditate. I think of yoga as a kind of moving meditation. It requires concentration and encourages you to focus on your breath and physical sensations. I once heard that the physical exercises of yoga practice were developed as a means to ready the practitioner for meditation. Unfortunately, for many people, yoga has come to be seen as a workout more than a mind-body practice. While yoga can present a good physical challenge, improving strength and flexibility, its benefits are more holistic. Even if you have little physical flexibility and are not very physically fit, you can find a yoga class that will be accessible to you. Give it a try – there are studios everywhere these days, and you can find lots of free videos online (I like the ones at

4. Practice the Pause

When you find yourself experiencing a physical sensation – a pain, an itch, a chill, a hunger pang – pause for a moment before doing anything about it. Take a second to identify the sensation. Simply naming what you are experiencing can reinforce the notion that the sensation is a thought like any other, and thoughts do not necessarily require a reaction.

What other ways have you found to incorporate mindfulness into your life?

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