20 Alternatives to Meditation for Improving Overall Wellness

Practice
October 17, 2021

Meditation has always been a highly recommended method of stress relief, and rightfully so – it has been around for thousands of years. Unfortunately, a lot of people struggle to practice meditation (for a variety of reasons) and could benefit from experiencing mindfulness in another way.

While many might not realize it, there are actually a wide variety of mindfulness activities that they can do instead, from daily breathwork exercises to everyday activities that they may already do. We will help you discover alternatives to meditation by covering the following:

  • 10 Common Meditation Challenges
  • 11 Benefits of Meditation
  • 20 Effective Alternatives to Meditation If You Are Struggling to Sit Still
  • The Bottom Line: Which is the Best Meditation Alternative?

Before we explore the meditation alternatives available, let’s better understand why someone might want to find an alternative to meditation.

10 common meditation challenges

A closeup of a woman lying on the ground her her hand over her eyes

Meditation is well-loved by many, but many others who try it experience difficulties that turn them away from it. These are some of the common challenges people experience while trying to meditate:

  • Sitting still: Feelings of restlessness and impatience while trying to sit in one place for too long.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Struggling to pay attention to the present moment and/or holding onto thoughts for too long.
  • Quietness: Feeling discomfort while being in a quiet space and remaining quiet for long periods of time.
  • Lacking confidence: Questioning whether or not you’re properly meditating throughout the process.
  • Difficulty visualizing: Being unable to create visuals in your mind during guided meditations.
  • Feeling uncomfortable: Experiencing cramps, pains, and other discomforts that keep you from maintaining mindfulness.
  • Struggling to relax: Feeling on edge while trying to meditate.
  • Lack of time: Being unable to stick to a regular practice due to feeling too busy.
  • Tiredness: Becoming drowsy or falling asleep while trying to meditate from lack of sleep and energy.
  • Stopping too soon: Quitting your meditation early after successfully meditating for only a short time.

11 benefits of meditation

If the common challenges with meditation aren’t an issue for you, there are many things you can gain from it. Here are some of the biggest benefits to regularly practicing meditation:

  1. Reduces stress: Lowers cortisol (your stress response chemical), allowing you to complete your stress cycle and feel relaxed.
  2. Reduces anxiety: Regular meditation is able to lower anxiety levels and reduce the occurence of anxiety-related symptoms.
  3. Helps manage depression: Reduces symptoms of depression and helps relieve negative thoughts.
  4. Improves self-awareness: Able to better understand yourself and your thoughts by becoming more mindful.
  5. Increases attention span: Regularly practicing meditations requiring focus helps to lengthen attention span over time.
  6. Helps fight memory loss: The amount of focus required helps to improve awareness, memory, and mental quickness. This has also shown to be beneficial for patients with dementia.
  7. Promotes positive feelings: Provokes positive emotions and leads to increased displays of kindness.
  8. Helps fight addictions: Can help decrease stress and lower cravings associated with addictions.
  9. Improves sleep: Helps to relax and promotes deep sleep. Especially helpful for those struggling with insomnia.
  10. Helps manage pain: Reduces the sensation of pain and increases your ability to cope with pain.
  11. Lowers blood pressure: Proven to reduce blood pressure as it lowers stress levels, which has a direct effect on heart function.

20 effective alternatives to meditation if you are struggling to sit still

For those who are still struggling to benefit from meditation, there are many meditation alternatives you can try. These are the top alternatives to meditation for practicing mindfulness.

1. Breathwork

A group of people practicing breathwork while sitting on rocks

Breathwork refers to a wide range of breathing exercises and techniques, both ancient and modern, that are used to control breathing patterns. There are many science-backed benefits to regularly practicing breathwork that all contribute to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. The wide variety of exercises means there's something for everyone, from beginner's exercises that can be done at home to advanced techniques that can be learned through workshops and training. Breathwork can even be considered one of several alternatives to transcendental meditation.

Benefits

  • Strengthens lungs and increases lung capacity
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Boosts immunity and releases toxins
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps with pain management
  • Promotes positivity and happiness

For a comprehensive list of benefits, check out the benefits of breathwork.           

Limitations

  • Shouldn’t be practiced if you are pregnant.
  • Anyone with a serious health condition should consult their doctor before starting a breathwork routine.

Choose this over meditation if:

You want to get into a meditative state without fighting your rampant thoughts.

2. Yoga

Yoga is an active mindfulness practice that combines physical movement, breathing, and meditation or relaxation. It's an ancient practice, originating from India, that can be used to improve both your physical and mental health. There are a variety of methods available for all skill levels that can be used to improve endurance, strength, flexibility, and calmness.

Benefits

  • Reduces stress
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Improves balance and flexibility
  • Helps manage pain
  • Improves heart health
  • Improves sleep
  • Increases energy
  • Improves mood

Limitations

  • More time needed to achieve stress relief. 
  • Should be avoided by those with chronic injuries.
  • Might be difficult for some depending on physical abilities.

Choose this over meditation if:

You struggle to calm your thoughts while sitting still.

3. Tai Chi

Tai chi, occasionally referred to as moving meditation, is a method of exercise that originated in China. With a variety of styles, it’s known for being easy on the body while also being beneficial for mental health. It has several benefits, including improved sleep for those with anxiety and pain reduction for those with fibromyalgia. While it involves a series of movements, the practice focuses on achieving a sense of mindfulness through the motions.

Benefits

  • Improved aerobic capacity
  • Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Increased energy
  • Improved mood
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Improves sleep
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Helps manage pain

Limitations

  • Should be avoided by those who are pregnant, have osteoporosis, or have a hernia.
  • Recommended learning from an experienced instructor.
  • Might be difficult for some depending on physical abilities.

Choose this over meditation if:

You want a combination of movement and meditation.

4. Walking

A group of people walking along a forest trail

Walking is a physical activity that many of us do every day. However, it can also be used as an alternative to meditation when done correctly. Mindful walking involves taking a walk – usually in a nature-filled spot – while paying heightened attention to your surroundings, as well as any emotions or sensations you feel. This boosts the physical and mental health benefits that walking typically offers.

Benefits

  • Reduces stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Boosts immune system
  • Improves respiratory and cardiovascular systems
  • Improves mood
  • Lowers the risk of various diseases

Limitations

  • Requires unguided effort to do properly.
  • Could be easily distracted depending on where you’re walking.

Choose this over meditation if:

You don't want to stay still in one place, or you want more control over your own mindfulness.

5. Forest bathing

Forest bathing, also known as shinrin-yoku, is the practice of mindfully walking through nature. Similar to mindful walking, it's practiced by journeying through nature and putting all of your focus on the thoughts, feelings, and sensations you experience as you do so. This exercise offers a wide variety of benefits, including improvements to stress relief, mood, focus, blood pressure, and pain management.

Benefits

  • Reduces stress
  • Improves mood
  • Increases creativity
  • Boosts immune system
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Accelerates recovery from illness

Limitations

  • Not easily accessible for city residents.
  • Be sure to practice in a safe area.

Choose this over meditation if:

You’re seeking a mindful experience away from your normal surroundings.

6. Journaling

Journaling is an activity that can help us practice self-awareness of our thoughts and feelings. Whether you choose to keep a gratitude journal, follow structured exercises, or allow yourself to mindfully journal every day, this activity allows you to better understand your feelings and experiences. It's regularly used in official medical therapy, and has been proven to help improve the moods of those who practice regularly.

Benefits

  • Improves mood
  • Reduces symptoms of depression
  • Improves focus and memory
  • Increases emotional regulation
  • Helps boost the immune system
  • Increases self-awareness

Limitations

  • Requires more dedication to be used successfully. 

Choose this over meditation if:

You're most concerned about processing your thoughts and feelings.

7. Coloring

Closeup of an eye with a rainbow reflected over it

Coloring is something everyone has done as children. And for adults, it is a proven mindfulness exercise. Mindfully coloring involves being entirely focused on your coloring, which makes it easy to shut out other thoughts you typically might have during the day. It's been proven to help with stress reduction, mood improvement, and even positive changes in physical health.

Benefits

  • Decreases heart rate and blood pressure
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Improves mood
  • Increases resilience
  • Lengthens attention span
  • Improves memory
  • Promotes a state of flow     

Limitations

  • Need to use pictures that won’t create stress.

Choose this over meditation if:

You struggle to focus on the present moment.

8. Drawing

Drawing can feel like a step up from coloring, but it's another easy mindfulness activity that anyone can do. Artistic abilities aren't required to practice mindful drawing, since the focus is on allowing yourself to draw what feels right in the moment and then feeling the sensations as you draw. There are various exercises you can try to get started, all of which will benefit your awareness, attention, and mood.

Benefits

  • Relieves anxiety and stress
  • Lengthens attention span
  • Improves focus
  • Increases creativity
  • Promotes self-awareness           

Limitations

  • Those who have insecurity around drawing might struggle.

Choose this over meditation if:

You want to use your hands and/or be more creative.

9. Listening to music

Listening to music is something many of us do, making it one of the easiest methods of achieving mindfulness. Mindful music listening involves listening to different songs and becoming aware of how they make you feel. This practice has been shown to help music listeners achieve a sense of calm, reduce their stress, and improve their resilience.

Benefits

  • Relieves stress
  • Promotes positive thinking

Limitations

  • Need to be selective of song choices, as some can create negative emotions.

Choose this over meditation if:

You'd prefer to choose your own songs over those used in guided meditations.

10. Dancing

A group of people in a circle with their arms stretched upwards

Dancing is a fun, creative activity that can also be done as a mindfulness exercise. Mindful dancing involves dancing freely, with your focus on being in the moment and using your body as a form of expression. It's a great option for benefiting both your physical and mental health.

Benefits

  • Reduces stress
  • Increase in positive thinking
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Improves balance
  • Increases focus
  • Improves heart rate
  • Helps manage muscular tension

Limitations

  • Success is limited by your ability to focus on feelings over planning your next steps.

Choose this over meditation if:

You want the freedom to move around while being creative.

11. Method of Loci

The method of loci is an ancient mindfulness practice that is used to help people improve their memories. It works by having you imagine yourself placing items you wish to remember within a room, which you can then recall by imagining yourself retracing your steps. This has been used for many years to help people improve their memories and recover lost items. It has even been helpful for those with Alzheimer's disease.

Benefits

  • Improves memory
  • Promotes positive mood

Limitations

  • Requires a high level of attention.

Choose this over meditation if:

You want to improve your ability to recall information.

12. Active resting

Active resting (not to be confused with active recovery) is a basic transcendental meditation alternative that mimics the benefits of sleeping. It works by simply lying down and relaxing all the muscles in your body, as you either pay attention to your thoughts or allow them to freely come and go. It can be done at any time, but those who want to do it first thing in the morning are recommended to complete their morning routine before starting.

Benefits

  • Calms your thoughts and body
  • Relieves stress
  • Promotes relaxation

Limitations

  • Easy to accidentally fall asleep.

Choose this over meditation if:

You want a quick, stress-free method of mindfulness.

13. Cleaning

A bucket of water next to a sound bowl

Cleaning is something we have to do anyways, so it offers an easy opportunity to engage in mindfulness. Mindful cleaning works when you both allow yourself to naturally flow between cleaning tasks as they feel right and focus on the sensations you feel as you clean. Clutter and dirt are known to elevate stress levels, so this exercise is great for helping to return to a stress-free environment and relax while doing so.

Benefits

  • Reduces stress
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Improves focus
  • Improves mood

Limitations

  • Careful steps and safety precautions might make it hard to maintain mindfulness.

Choose this over meditation if:

You have a busy schedule and/or want to make cleaning more enjoyable.

14. Driving

Driving down a regular route is another great way to practice mindfulness while doing something you'd be doing anyways. While you're driving, whether stuck in traffic or safely traveling along, put all of your focus on driving and notice everything you see, hear, smell, and feel as you do so. Practicing this, especially in a judgment-free way, has been shown to reduce the stress, anxiety, and negative thoughts often felt by drivers.

Benefits

  • Reduces driving-related stress and anxiety
  • Improves focus
  • Lengthens attention span
  • Improves mood

Limitations

  • Shouldn’t be practiced when/where safety is a concern.

Choose this over meditation if:

You're stuck during your commute, or find yourself regularly stressed while driving your route.

15. Non-judgmental awareness

Non-judgmental awareness is a mindfulness exercise that involves allowing thoughts to enter your mind, acknowledging them, and then letting them go. This exercise is done as a way to understand your own thought processes and attempt to limit the stress and negativity that comes from holding onto some judgments. Practicing this regularly can help you achieve peace of mind and build a more positive view of the world around you.

Benefits

  • Can help create a sense of peace
  • Promotes positive thinking
  • Improves self-awareness

Limitations

  • Not an instant stress reliever.

Choose this over meditation if:

You want to challenge your negative thought patterns.

16. Showering or bathing

Showering or taking a bath is something we do almost every day, making it the perfect opportunity to squeeze some mindfulness into a day. Similar to swimming, mindful showering or bathing can help you feel calm as you focus on the sensations of the water and soaps. It's an easy way to help yourself relax and create comfort.

Benefits

  • Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Increases self-compassion     

Limitations

  • Mindful bathing should be avoided when drowsy.

Choose this over meditation if:

You struggle to find time in the day to be mindful.

17. Swimming

Swimming offers a lot of physical benefits, but it can also be used as a mindfulness exercise for relaxation. Mindful swimming is when swimmers are fully present in the moment and focusing on their feelings and sensations as they swim. This helps swimmers improve their focus and balance, and it can also be used as a relaxation technique.

Benefits

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves blood circulation
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Helps maintain physical well-being

Limitations

  • Not recommended for weak swimmers.

Choose this over meditation if:

You want the freedom to move around and/or swim while being mindful.

18. Surfing or paddleboarding

Surfing and paddleboarding are two popular water sports that can help active swimmers be mindful. Both activities involve being on the water with a task at hand, which allows you to put all your attention on what you're doing in the present and experience an "oceanic feeling" (or a feeling of limitlessness) from the sensations you're likely to feel. These activities are ideal for improving mental health, and surfing has even helped improve the lives of veterans struggling with PTSD.

Benefits

  • Relieves stress
  • Helps manage depression and anxiety
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Improves cardiovascular health

Limitations

  • Not recommended for weak swimmers.

Choose this over meditation if:

You like the combination of being on the water and having a task at hand.

19. Sex

Sex can be difficult to talk about for some, but it's another commonplace activity that can be used to practice mindfulness. Whether with a partner or on your own, mindful sex simply requires you to be fully present in the moment as you focus on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations throughout the session. This practice is great for relaxation and stress relief, and it can also be used to help people form positive views on sexuality and engage in sexual treatment and healing.

Benefits

  • Helps overcome sexual issues
  • Relieves stress
  • Helps manage pain
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves relationships
  • Increases sexual arousal
  • Helps build confidence

Limitations

  • Can be difficult for those who see it as taboo.

Choose this over meditation if:

You want to explore mindfulness through sensuality.

20. Gardening

Gardening is a joyful activity for many that also provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness. This activity works when you put all of your focus on your gardening tasks, becoming aware of your senses and admiring the beauty around you. Mindful gardening is great for stress relief and experiencing joy.

Benefits

  • Reduces stress
  • Helps manage symptoms of depression
  • Improves mood and self-esteem
  • Improves memory
  • Increases vitamin D absorption

Limitations

  • Ideal for those with access to a garden.

Choose this over meditation if:

You need an excuse to get outside.

The bottom line: which is the best meditation alternative?

While there are many great alternatives to meditation, breathwork is by far the best. It’s one of the easiest and simplest mindfulness exercises, even if you’re at a beginner’s skill level. It offers a large list of science-backed benefits, and consists of a variety of different exercises and techniques that you can try out until you find one(s) you like. It’s also easily accessible with many online resources, in-person workshops, and breathwork apps that will help you practice whenever and wherever.

Breathwork is a great choice for a meditation alternative, especially for those who want to relieve their stress and anxiety in a mindful way. If this sounds like the best alternative for you, get started today by signing up for Inward Breathwork’s free 3-day breathwork journey.