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Navigating Meditation When Sitting Still Makes You Anxious

Navigating Meditation When Sitting Still Makes You Anxious

The benefits of meditation are undeniable and far-reaching. Meditation can assist us medically and physically: lowering blood pressure, improving nervous system functionality, clearing skin issues. It also boosts our emotional and mental states, including building resilience, enhancing compassion towards others, and promoting mental wellbeing. But what if the thought of sitting still - even for a matter of minutes - makes you anxious? How can you reap the benefits without, in fact, heightening the stressed emotions we are working to reduce?

Focusing on breathing and quietude for minutes on end can feel passive and unachievable. At times, it highlights our lack of time or the thoughts that unhelpfully spiral, only leading to more stress. The good news is that meditation isn’t reserved only for the yogis and still minded. To all the fidgeters, the time-wary, and those who find stillness uncomfortable, we hear you. A form of active meditation may be the route you need; the options here are endless, so you are guaranteed to find a style to suit your lifestyle and passions.

Movement As Meditation

Walk on the beach

Movement-based meditation is a great place to start as it perfectly marries the need for action with a focus on the mind. Even better, you can apply this thinking to various movements; we’ve addressed just a few below.

Walking meditation is the most seamless way to introduce meditation into your daily routine. Simply walk (ideally in a natural setting), connect to your surroundings, pay attention to your breath, and relax. Feel the sunshine on your skin, the ground beneath your feet, and the sensations within your body. If negative thoughts continue to plague you, try a guided walking meditation on the Headspace app or Spotify.

Studies show that mindful walking can be a valuable strategy to reduce stress and increase quality of life. Nature helps to quieten the mind and gain perspective; even amidst the busyness of life and city living, a mindful walk can lift our mood. The practice grounds us and decreases cortisol levels, and it only takes 20 -30 minutes of strolling a day.

Running has gained popularity over the last year with gyms closing and alternative workouts explored, so consider making your next run a mindful one. Being outdoors helps us to refocus and adjust thought patterns. The Nike+ Run Club app has further enabled this idea; listen to sessions recorded with the co-founder of Headspace, Andy Puddicombe. These guided runs encourage us to set intentions, connect the body and the mind, focus on breathing, and minimise distraction. Where before a run may have sounded torturous, pounding the pavement and breaking a sweat seems almost serene with Nike’s assistance. Prompted by questions and thought-provoking statements, the run takes you outside of your body, into the mind, and a more relaxed space.

If breaking a sweat isn’t your thing, try swimming laps. Focus on counting, breathing, and the strokes as you glide up and down the lanes. Or, as others recommend, indulge in a daily heart-opening practice: select a song, sit cross-legged, position your arms out to the side with elbows at 90-degrees, and move the arms back and forth for the length of the song. Alternatively, you could do this in a cat-cow position or downward dog. Essentially, the idea is to focus on the movement and tap into the body. Feel it, repeat it, and listen. Then enter the day refreshed.

Creating As Meditation

Coloured pencils

Maybe you prefer a seated option that requires only your hands - crafting may be your key. As with movement, the possibilities are extensive and should satisfy your unique passions.

Colouring is an obvious starting point, one that requires minimal investment or creative ability. The rise of “adult” colouring books is justified as studies have shown improvements in anxiety when pencilling patterns and mandalas. As one study notes, the patterns themselves “drew the participants into a meditative-like state that helped reduce their anxiety.” Simply download an outline or purchase a book, stock up on coloured pencils, and try to keep within the lines (or don’t, if that is more your style).

Knitting also promotes a meditative state of mind: the repetition and rhythm of stitching promote a time of contemplation and calm. Likewise, crafting, sewing, weaving, and other creative ventures enable us to get outside of our head and focus on something soothing. Pick up your childhood hobby and see where it leads.

Bathing As Meditation


After a long and stressful day, taking a bath can be the best way to switch off. Now, it can be part of your formal meditation practice, too. Not only does bathing soothe sore muscles, but the warm pool of water also offers a temporary escape, a calm atmosphere, and a slowing of the parasympathetic nervous system, which enables us to breathe more deeply.

Before bathing, make sure you carve out appropriate and uninterrupted time - there should be no rushing or deadlines when working to restore the mind. Set the scene in your bathroom: clear away anything that might stress or distract you, light a candle, queue calming sounds (or merely listen to the water lapping), and treat yourself to a beverage if the urge hits. To up your bath’s soothing qualities, consider adding bath salts or oils; lavender will promote relaxation, while citrus will energise and revitalise.

The only thing left is to relax. Focus on breathing and freeing the mind. Practice some breathwork, close your eyes, and let the stress wash down the drain.

Finding Your Meditation

It’s clear that there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to meditation, but don’t let this put you off. The benefits are reaped through a wide range of exercises; it’s just a matter of finding the right one for you.

Start slowly with one of our suggestions above or, if these don’t pique your interest, consider redefining meditation to suit your needs and interests. Consider how you can connect to your body, focus on your breath, and feel a deep sense of joy. What makes you feel good? What decreases your stress? What brings your focus away from the swirling thoughts? Maybe this is patiently and lovingly baking cookies, lounging in the afternoon sun flicking through magazines, or cuddling a pet. Find your thing and make it a regular practice.

Meditation shouldn’t be another stressor on the to-do list each day - that would defeat its very purpose. Take it easy, go slow on yourself, and get into your groove. We could all do with a little more slowing down.

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