Anyone who’s sat cross-legged on the floor and tried to get her "om" on knows that meditation can be difficult—quieting the constant flood of thoughts is easier said than done. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all of the benefits of a regular practice (including reduced anxiety and depression, better sleep, a happier mood, less illness, and possibly a longer life). In fact, recent research shows other activities may have similar brain benefits. [Tweet this news!] Here are three—no incense or chanting required.
New research from Loma Linda University in California found that laughter triggers brain waves similar to those that occur during meditation. In the study of 31 people, volunteers’ brains had high levels of gamma waves while watching funny video clips compared to viewing spiritual or sad videos. Gamma is the only frequency all parts of the brain put out, indicating that the entire brain is engaged, giving you that blissful totally in-the-moment experience.
Like meditation—and often considered a form of meditation—deep breathing gives your mind something to focus on while you sit still. It also triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which pulls the brakes on the stress response, slowing your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, dilating your blood vessels, relaxing your muscles, and calming your mind. To master deep breathing techniques, click here.
It could help pause your thoughts. McGill University researchers found that intensely emotional music (anything that gives you chills) causes your brain to release the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which meditation also releases. Dopamine is responsible for that pleasurable and focused feeling frequent meditators note. It also makes you want to repeat an activity (eating, sex, and drugs release it too) for a satisfying sensation over and over again. The best part? Immediate gratification: You get a dopamine boost just by anticipating your favorite songs, the researchers found.