While traveling in Malaysia this year, I met the most amazing woman. Vivacious, brilliant, and adventurous, this girl and I kayaked several miles of open sea in search of fish species we'd never seen before. We lay on the beach all night, watching the stars and eating watermelon infused with duty-free vodka. We trekked the python- and cobra-filled jungle in search of the elusive Penis Plant.
THERE IS DEFINITELY NO WAY THAT THIS IS AN INTERNET HOAX.
I was so on-board with this girl. With one exception.
She'd recently done a 10-day silent retreat in Thailand, and thought I should do one, too.
Like, I think it's awesome that she did her retreat and got something out of it and all...
But I don't have to try it to know it would be a horrible, miserable, and possibly expensive waste of my time.
The thing a lot of people who do zen-Buddha-yoga shit forget... is that just because it worked for you, doesn't mean it's going to work for other people.
I mean, we can all agree that individuals vary wildly, right? So why would you think there is any kind of one-size-fits-all happiness hack?
For me, meditation is not necessary, because I feel deeply immersed in my day-to-day life -- whether admiring the clouds or savoring every bite of my crunch wrap burrito or paying attention to nothing but the activity I'm doing right now, be scuba diving or skateboarding or basketball. So meditation, for me, is kind of just a boring waste of time.
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For some people, meditation, yoga and similar activities might not only be boring... they might also encourage a toxic thought pattern known as rumination, or the tendency to think repetitively or continuously think about the situations that are upsetting.
According to psychology research, there's a pretty strong relationship between rumination and depression and anxiety. Rumination is also connected to forms of self-sabotage -- for example, if you constantly replay something a friend did that upset you, you might never forgive that friend. If you do this every time someone upsets you, eventually you won't have anyone left. If you constantly think about what went wrong between you and your ex, you make it harder for yourself to move on and become interested in other people. (But remember: Saying "Before Others Can Love You, You Have to Learn to Love Yourself" Is COMPLETELY FALSE.)
So say this is something you struggle with. Say you're a ruminator.
The mindfulness industry tells you that you can get over your fight, breakup, mental illness, or problem at work by meditating. Sure, downloading that meditation program might help you develop presence and other mind-clearing skills...
It might just encourage you to sit still for however many minutes and ruminate.
If rumination is a weakness for you, meditation and yoga -- and even passive, solo exercises, like jogging -- might not be the ideal way to reset and clear your mind.
If you go on a run to clear your head, but spend the whole time replaying conversations with your ex in your head, you're going to come out feeling worse, not better.
If you go to yoga class but feel totally bored and keep checking the clock to see how many more minutes till it's over, you're not reaping the psycho-spiritual benefits you've been promised.
If you go to meditation but can't center yourself or feel present or whatever because you're worried about an upcoming performance review... what even is the point?
Individuals vary wildly, so if meditation/yoga/whatever isn't bringing you bliss and joy and clarity... maybe give up and try something else.
Especially if you're a ruminator, you may find it beneficial to develop interests and skills in an activity that demands your full attention in a way that meditation et al. doesn't. For example, surfing.
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If you don't pay attention when you're surfing... best case, you miss the good waves. Worst case, you get destroyed by them. Once you're riding, you've got to pay attention to what the wave is doing, and whether there are other surfers you need to avoid further down the line.
Or, for another example, mountain biking.
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Unlike an exercise like jogging or yoga, if you don't pay attention while you're mountain biking, you can crash. You need to keep your eyes ahead and be ready to respond to technical and physical challenges.
The other thing with these outdoor sports is, instead of staring at a wall or closing your eyes or whatever, you have natural wonders around you to appreciate -- sea otters, dolphins, cormorants, vista points, sunsets, gigantic trees. What better way to be mindful than to take these sights in?
There are also team sports, like basketball, frisbee, or volleyball. This could be a great alternative for someone who feels socially disconnected (as I wrote in For the Love of God, STOP Asking People If They're Okay! Ask This Instead, depression tends to manifest itself in one of two ways: feelings of loneliness/isolation, and feelings of helplessness/worthlessness), as most yoga classes I've been to weren't exactly social. Yoga studios are pretty and they smell nice and everyone has really nice clothes (the pretty workout clothes are one of my favorite by-products of the "wellness industry")... but people pretty much show up for class, silently do to the class, then leave.
Team sports, on the other hand, involve interpersonal interaction.
They also hold you accountable.
In yoga, who cares if your mind wanders?
In volleyball, your team depends on you staying focused and alert. Your personal and team performance suffers if you don't keep your eye on the ball.
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If team sports aren't your thing, there are also solo sports, like indoor rock climbing, that a) can be made more social if that's what you want (at Planet Granite, I often hear them make announcements about solo climbers who are looking for belay partners, but if you don't have or want one, you can always just boulder), and b) require focus and attention in a way that jogging or indoor exercise machines don't.
Climbing has the added benefit of also feeling like a fun puzzle.
Maybe you aren't like me.
Maybe you find physical activity draining, rather than energizing. Maybe you have different interests from me.
That's fine. Maybe you're a musician. Maybe your yoga/meditation is learning classic rock solos, studying John Mayer guitar work, or preparing songs for open mic. Maybe Sunday jams are your jam.
Maybe you love to read.
Maybe you love gardening.
It really doesn't matter what it is that you love. It only matters that you understand: it doesn't have to be meditation.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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