9 Meditation Tips (or Substitutes) For People Who Can’t Sit Still

If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent. ~ Ani Pema Chodron Click To Tweet

Meditation does not come easily to me. At first, I thought I simply wasn’t able to do it at all. Then I realized I’d been meditating in my own way all along. I just hadn’t given myself credit for it.

It is important to understand what meditation actually is, rather than what you expect it be, or believe it should be. Don’t feel you have failed if you can’t sit still for half an hour. Don’t think you’re doing it wrong if you aren’t sitting on the floor in a Yoga position. And Don’t think you have to buy stuff to do it right, either.

Do understand that your mind does not shut off during meditation; you may have thousands of thoughts and feelings as your ever-active mind finally begins the process of winding down and relaxing.

1) One-Minute-Meditation

Start with 60 seconds, sitting quietly. Try finding a place where you don’t have distractions (like clutter, even if you think you function in clutter).

Give yourself the chance to succeed by setting the stage and not overwhelming yourself with big goals. Listen to the ticking of a clock for 60 seconds while just breathing in and out without feeling pressured, impatient or annoyed.

For just 60 simple seconds, don’t focus on your daily aggravations — give your brain a coffee break.

2) Get Distracted

I meditate on public transportation. That’s the one time my mind stops being so busy, I don’t feel guilty or restless and I can drift along for the hour-long bus ride across town.

No doubt this won’t work for everyone, however. Some people would find the setting of a bus frustrating. For me, it’s relaxing. I forget I’m even there and connected to anything or anyone. But, I don’t miss my stop.

From this I have learned meditation is all about distracting my mind. Instead of sitting quietly, while compiling to-do lists in my head I can focus on something kind of bland, routine and yet not actually boring or pointless. There are endless household chores which work great for meditation: washing dishes, folding laundry, painting something. Anything simple, not requiring a lot of thought, will work.

3) Doodle

Getting your body busy with a routine will free up your mind. Just like the bus ride, there isn’t anything very challenging to occupy your brain, so it can take a back seat for awhile.

Doodling is another option, a creative outlet. I’d try Zen Tangle but for a perfectionist like myself I would be trying too hard and focusing on making something memorable.

I would rather draw standard doodles: lines, circles, odd shapes and then shade them in or fill them with dots, connecting lines… and so on. No mental stress involved.

4) White Noise

If your pen has run out of ink, doodle in your imagination. See swirling shapes, colours, like your personal screensaver.

Or try some music. Background, white noise, very quiet — not something that’ll make you want to jump up and dance.

I know a local Pagan store which sells CDs with the sound of the ocean, trains, just about anything people could use to wind down for sleep or meditation.

5) Relax

A counsellor gave me the idea to go from your head to your toes, relaxing each part of your body. She has a recording of the exercise. Take your time, get comfortable and make sure you’re not too cold or warm.

Start with your face, how does your face feel? Close your eyes (if you can, I’m not good at that part) and sense the muscles of your face, mouth, eyes, chin, nose, ears. Move around to the back of your head, down your neck, shoulders, arms, elbows, hands, chest, belly, back… all the way down to your waist, thighs, knees, calves, feet and toes.

Be aware of how each part of you feels and then relax each part before moving on to the next. Don’t rush it and pay attention to yourself, your body.

You might think a glass of wine would get you in the mood, but keep it for a reward after instead. Dulling yourself with something else isn’t the same as giving yourself that feeling of stillness, quiet and peace that arises on its own after only a short time of letting go. 

6) Accomplish Something Else

Get something off your mind or crossed off your to-do list. This does not mean you start a fight with someone and get two (or more) people all stressed out.

Take a look at your to-do list, find something you’ve been putting off but need to get done, and do it! The after glow from having it done makes you feel great.

Meditating is simply taking more time to enjoy that feeling, extending the happiness of accomplishment. When you already feel good, it’s easier to feel better.

7) Get Outside

If possible, meditate outdoors. Take a walk. Collect pebbles, beachcomb or watch the leaves fall. If you find a good spot to sit under a tree, on a blanket or picnic table, relax there and get comfortable.

There is something so refreshing about being outside, in nature, part of the planet rather than hooked up to civilization, technology and all the rest of it.

Take your attention outside of yourself — feel the air on your skin, smell the garden, hear the birds… how much of the outdoors can you feel with your eyes closed?

If, for some reason, nature alludes you, simply open a window and let the breeze in to play for a while.

8) Take Notes

When you decide you’ve had enough or your time is up, write about things you thought about or felt. What emotions came up? What ideas did you get? Who did you think about?

Writing things down helps sort out your thoughts from the jumble and traffic in your mind. Try writing a journal both before meditating, and then afterwards. See where your mind went, examining whether you found solutions once you were able to relax and focus on something else.

Certain creative writers engage in a practice known as ‘Morning Pages’, putting down ten hand written pages every morning in order to get the juices running and (hopefully) preparing them for what’s known as the flow state — something quite akin to meditation. The routine comes from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way.

9) Do It for Yourself

Group meditation can be great, but it’s often more experienced practitioners who find it the most helpful, or people who are naturally comfortable and at ease with others. For introverts, however, it can be a great hindrance. Nothing will get you there if you’re worried about what others are thinking.

Worse yet, some people do it because they care so much what others think of them! This is a sure-fire recipe for failure. You’re not ‘zen’ if you need people to think you’re zen– you’re not even anywhere close.

If, however, you are doing it because you truly want to connect with something deeper, find more relaxation and ease, and gain inspiration and insight, there’s a strong case to be made — particularly on your own, privately, using whatever method or technique works best for you.