3 Easy Alternatives to Meditation

According to science, they lower stress, anxiety and can be remarkably relaxing.

Younes Henni, PhD
4 min readSep 3, 2021
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

There is little chance our stone-age ancestors meditated 10 minutes a day or journaled their thoughts. Yet, we know they:

While meditation or journaling can help you relax, there are simpler ways to achieve the same (or even better) results.

One of the easiest alternatives to meditation is “optic flow”.

Optic flow happens when things move past your eyes. For example, you’re in optic flow when you walk, jog, or ride a bike. But also when you gaze out a window of a moving vehicle: a train, a bus, or a car.

You can even engage in optic flow by sitting still and watching things move past your eyes. For example, whenever you watch a river stream, a water cascade, or drifting clouds.

Optic flow is relaxing because it lowers activity in the amygdala. This brain region is the centre of anxiety, fear, and threat detection. And while the amygdala helps us evade predators and all sorts of danger, it pushes us to overreact in everyday’s situations.

Andrew Huberman, a Stanford University neuroscientist, tells how he injects optic flow into his routine:

“For me, taking a walk each morning is not about exercise or burning calories. It’s about getting into optic flow and reducing amygdala activation. It helps me become alert, without feeling anxious.” — Excerpt from the Huberman podcast.

The science is clear: walking, biking, driving a car, or watching waterfalls calms your mind and lowers anxiety.

Another easy alternative to meditation is spending time in green spaces. Trees, plants, and flowers have remarkable benefits for the mind and body.

Scientists wanted to know the effects of city parks on young adults and seniors. So they asked participants to make regular trips to a public park in spring and summer.

Surrounded by cherry blossoms, green grass, and a pond, they sat calmly and absorbed the scenery for 10 to 15 minutes a day. All the while, scientists monitored their body functions. The results of the experiment were no less than incredible. Participants start having:

  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Lower levels of anxiety, depression, and anger.
  • Lower heart rates.
  • Higher positive mood.

Moreover, everyone reported feeling “refreshed”.

“Viewing urban parks results in physiological and psychological relaxation.” Concludes the authors of one of the studies.

Whether you’re young or old, make it a habit to spend time in parks or urban forests. This can lower your stress, anxiety, and even improve your physical health.

The third alternative to meditation is simply window-gazing.

Have you ever wondered why hotels charge more money for a sea-view room? Or why do we tend to prefer office space with windows? It turns out, yearning for windows has real mental and physical benefits.

Window gazing relaxes the eye muscles and lowers brain activity, making you feel relaxed. In fact, windows that offer nice views can even help people recover faster from stressful experiences.

Office windows are a big deal. They improve both workplace culture and job satisfaction. In contrast, windowless offices offer no information about the outside world. This can make their occupiers feel isolated, depressed and anxious.

Windows help patients recover faster. People undergoing intensive therapy with access to windows had better memory, orientation, and fewer hallucinations than those in windowless units.

Windows offer daylight, sceneries, and information about the weather. And because they brighten rooms, windows help you perceive your surroundings better. As a result, you feel safer and in control. It comes as no surprise that windows with great views are among the most requested features for homes and office buildings.

Does your office offer access to a window? Gaze off it whenever you can; your body and mind will thank you for it.

Our stone-age ancestors engaged in optic flow, spent time in nature, and did hill-gazing daily (assuming that’s the old version of window-gazing). However, you don’t need to go cave-dwelling to do all that. Use your immediate environment to practice these techniques with ease.

  • If you have access to a nearby park, spend more time in it.
  • If you’ve got a break, take a walk, jog, or go for a ride.
  • Does your workplace offer access to a window? Gaze out of it whenever you can.

Simple as they are, these habits might improve your mental and physical well-being more than mediation.

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Younes Henni, PhD

Physicist • Soft Dev • ☕ Junkie • I bring you the latest in science, tech, health, economics & personal growth. To read all: https://youneshenni.substack.com/