Mastering meditation can take years and have strange but positive effects on both the mind and body. While from the outside, meditation may look mundane, inside, the mind and the body are being trained to work seamlessly with one another.
And on the path to strengthening this connection, there are some interesting side-effects.
Long-time practitioners have reported out-of-body experiences, exceedingly vivid daydreams, and sensations akin to the effects of psychedelic drugs. And however unique or different each practitioner’s experience tends to be, the end result of proper meditation is always the same: a perfect sense of calmness and peace.
Achieving this mental state is the end goal of all meditation. By combining controllable factors like breathing, postures, movements, mantras, mental imagery, and a constant awareness of nothing else but the present moment, meditation can train anyone to achieve this focused, relaxed, and calm state of mind.
If you feel that basic meditation is too boring or uninteresting, don’t worry. Its calming and insomnia-fighting benefits can be gained through other, more-engaging, yet still meditative physical activities.
If you’re reading this online, you’re definitely no stranger to what yoga is. For the uninitiated, yoga is a combination of maintaining various postures that utilize your entire body as you breathe in a slow and controlled manner. In modern fitness culture, yoga is considered to be one of the most effective low-impact weight-loss exercises that you can do.
At the same time, its use of your entire body (with particular focus on the spine) and the required proper breathing also teaches you advanced mind-body focus. This is why the end of proper yoga sessions results not just in physical but also mental relaxation and development.
Out of all the modern types of yoga that you can practice, Hatha yoga is the least physically taxing. In fact, there’s no such thing as too old, too fat, too unhealthy, or too non-flexible when it comes to starting Hatha yoga.
That’s one of the first things Hatha instructors tell would-be students – everyone should try it. Some scientific studies even recommend long-term yoga practice for all senior citizens who want to improve their sleep and enjoy a better quality of life.
The practice of modern Japanese archery or Kyudo is neither a sport nor an exercise. From ancient archers to today’s Olympic coaches, Kyudo is widely regarded as a highly effective form of meditation.
Some ancient masters even consider it to be holistically therapeutic – a preventative cure-all against severe sicknesses and the ravages of age. Like all meditative activities, the point of Kyudo is to gather and sharpen focus. The actual ritual of shooting starts with the proper posture.
From a kneeling position, the archer takes up the bow and arrow before standing up to a preparatory shooting stance. The feet are firmly planted on the ground. The spine is straightened but relaxed. The whole body works to stabilize the archer, the bow, and the arrow – a single entity with a single purpose.
The slow and meticulous movements of raising the bow and pulling back the drawstring is accompanied by deep breathing, which, when done in sync with the movements, gives the archer better stability.
Before the arrow is released, the archer’s focus reaches a zenith – an emptying of the mind, an extreme calmness that dedicates the archer’s entire mind and body to the single purpose of shooting the arrow. And with each shot, the Kyudo practitioner gets better and better at attaining the calm and empty state of mind necessary to properly perform the ritual of archery (which, in Kyudo, is more important than hitting the bull’s-eye).
Repeated Kyudo practice is a great way to deal with constant stress and anxiety. It’s also very good for your posture and could also be a way to lessen and even completely get rid of certain strange back pains.
Some professional archers find that combining Kyudo and yoga can give them better core strength, sharper focus, a greater sense of breathing, and overall better balance and stability.
#3 Tai Chi
Also known as ‘meditation in motion’, tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that has evolved into a series of slow, flowing movements that are even less impactful than Hatha yoga.
Traditionally, doing tai chi is supposed to unblock certain energy pathways, allowing ‘Qi’ energy to freely flow throughout your entire body. Traditional practitioners agree that Qi energy flow is necessary for proper circulation, organ function, and inner peace.
Whether you believe in Qi energy or not, regularly practicing tai chi can give you the intended benefits of the ancient Chinese who first practiced the art.
While its practice may look rather easy from a distance, tai chi’s slow, flowing, continuous, and meticulous movements can be challenging to follow at first.
But once you learn to keep your mind and body in sync in order to ‘flow with the chi’, you will soon experience the ancient art’s meditative, calming, and relaxing results.
Much like yoga, anyone can do tai chi. In fact, even advanced forms of tai chi won’t really physically tire you out. Out of all the meditative activities on this list, tai chi is, without a doubt, the least physically taxing.
This means that you can actually do it before going to bed without fear of being too physically amped-up to fall asleep.
#4 Long-Distance Running
In contrast to tai chi, running is the most physically taxing activity on this list. If you’ve never ran before, sweating profusely is the least of your worries. Running is a mental, physical, and for some, a spiritual test that will leave you with a much better understanding of your limits and potentials.
It is going to be harrowing at first, but don’t let that dissuade you. Building up endurance to pain is both a requirement and a resulting benefit of long-distance running. Regular runners often speak of a psychological ‘wall’ that you need to break through during the first couple miles, after which you can run for as much as you want to.
Unfortunately, before you hit this wall, your mind is going to be assaulted with thoughts about stopping and taking a rest.
This is where meditative focus comes in – command your mind to ignore the voices and keep moving. Unless the pain becomes unbearable, signaling a significant tear or damage in the body, keep ignoring the negative thoughts.
In this state of physical exhaustion and mental self-doubt, you’ll need your focus more than ever. And if you succeed at harnessing that focus to keep running, the calmness that your mind achieves is at once ecstatic and deeply relaxing.
With nothing else in the world expect your moving body and the path that you’re running on, it’s impossible for anxiety and stress to even affect you at this point. In Haruki Murakami’s ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, the writer describes the feeling of wanting to see how long he could keep running without stopping – it wasn’t about distance anymore, it was about time, focus, and endurance – how long could he keep his mind and body focused on this single task?
If you regularly run, you can find the answer to this question for yourself.
Apart from its meditative and relaxing benefits, running also contributes more to your fight against insomnia because of its positive effects on your circadian rhythms – the internal biological clocks that dictate the regularity of your sleeping patterns.
Just try to run after you wake up or before your workday begins. While long-distance running can be a highly effective form of meditation, the adrenaline and various chemicals that running produces in your body could contribute to insomnia if you do it too close to bedtime.
Whether you live in the city or in a place with beautiful, unspoiled natural settings, you can use your bike to meditate. As you sit and pedal on a bike, your mind is forced to focus on the road in order to keep you safe and moving.
Your legs, lungs, and your entire body respond by moving, breathing, and balancing accordingly – in sync with what your mind is telling you to do. When you bike for long distances, you’ll soon find that the motions of dodging in and out of traffic, navigating narrow streets, slowing down and speeding up, and simply cruising at a stable speed all start to feel as natural to you as walking.
Whenever your mind drifts off, you’re forced to return your attention to pedaling your bike, keeping your balance, and breathing properly. You will have no choice but to focus on the present moment, less you risk falling off or getting into an accident – it’s one of the most highly engaging and effective forms of mindfulness meditation.
If you want to try bike-meditation but want to do it in a safer, more controlled environment, try using an indoor bike. In a room with dimmed lights, with music that helps you relax, and anything else that can help you achieve a state of absolute concentration and calmness, it’s easier for some to use an indoor bike for meditation.
When you’ve tried everything else to cure your insomnia to no avail, it’s time to look inward. Meditate. Try out activities that put you into a state of meditation. As someone who struggles with sleep, your goals should be simple: strengthened focus and inner peace. When your mind and body are in sync and at peace, you can do anything – including beating chronic insomnia.
Randy Vera is a freelance writer, licensed nurse, and sleep enthusiast from Los Angeles, California. After traveling through SE Asia to learn of his heritage, he joined a few of his colleagues at One Bed Mattress. He practices Zen meditation daily and prefers living a natural health lifestyle.
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