Does the word “meditation” call to mind the image of sitting quietly cross-legged for hours? If you’ve ever thought, “I can’t do that—I’m not a calm person,” you’re not alone. But in fact, anyone can practice meditation, and you don’t have to do it for hours a day to reap the many mind and body benefits.
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“What people don’t always get about a meditation exercise is that it really just involves taking control of your attention,” says David Harp, author of Mindfulness to Go: How to Meditate While You’re on the Move. “You have what I like to call mental muscle: the ability to control your thoughts.”
Just like a physical workout, mental exercise can help train your brain to behave a specific way in certain situations. That discipline can override the “fight-or-flight” response our bodies typically have to stress. It’s no surprise, then, that research has shown that people who meditate regularly have lower blood pressure and possibly even stronger immune systems.
Once you’ve made a habit of meditating, it will become easier to call on a feeling of calm when you need it. “Some people decide it’s not practical for their lives because they’re so busy, but meditation teaches you to handle all the different things that are coming at you without getting flustered,” says David Dillard-Wright, author of Meditation for Multitaskers: Your Guide to Finding the Peace Between the Pings. “It’s an empowering feeling even if you don’t have an ‘I feel in touch with the universe’ sense of bliss.”
Here are some mini meditations you can do when you need a moment of peace.
Be Mindful During Mindless Tasks
During the course of a day, you likely do multiple tasks that don’t require your full attention, from brushing your teeth to preparing a simple meal you’ve made countless times. Try to take those opportunities to practice a simple meditation, taking deep breaths and thinking “in” when you inhale and “out” when you exhale. “I like to do that exercise while I shave every day, starting the minute I turn on the hot water,” Harp says. “That gives me about a 3-minute meditation. If I find 3-4 opportunities a day to do that, I can easily fit in 15 minutes.
Meditate in Motion
Believe it or not, a quick and easy meditation exercise you can do is to drive mindfully. Out running a ton of errands? Turn off the radio or CD player and focus on nothing but your driving. Notice where the other cars are in relation to you, the speed you’re going and the road signs along the way. If any other thoughts creep into your mind, gently push them out and return only to thoughts that relate to the practice of driving. (Bonus: You’ll be a much safer driver!)
Breathe Deeply at Your Desk
Cigarette or water-cooler breaks aren’t as much a part of workplace culture as they used to be. But it’s still important that you take time during the 9-to-5 to recharge your brain—you can even do it without your cubicle neighbors knowing. “Turn off your monitor if you can, or at least flip to a web page that won’t distract you,” Dillard-Wright says. “Or put up a peaceful photo in your cubicle that you can focus on.” Then spend two to three minutes taking deep breaths and labeling them “in” and “out.” Alternatively, you can take a pretend walk at your desk, quietly picking up and putting down your feet at your desk, counting your steps as you go.
Don’t Get Mad, Get Zen
Imagine if the next time you found yourself annoyed by a coworker you could draw on a reserve of inner calm. You can actually build up that ability with practice. As an exercise, try turning on a TV or radio show host you disagree with. As he or she rants and rambles, split your attention between the words and your breathing, not letting either one dominate your thoughts. “You may find you either get caught up in a fight-or-flight response or you get so preoccupied with your breath that you stop listening at all,” Harp says. “The key is to strike that balance, and that will prepare you for a difficult encounter. When it’s time to respond, your response is going to be more balanced and less emotional.”
Conjure Up Compassion
If you do any research into meditation traditions, you might come across the term “loving kindness” or “loving compassion.” Some practitioners use this to describe the warm, open-hearted feeling from which you should approach your meditation. An easy way to capture this feeling is to visualize a beloved pet from your past or present. (Or Google cute animal photos if you’ve never owned one yourself.) Imagine that you are petting or hugging the animal. That fuzzy feeling you get is good for your soul, and recalling it anytime you are stressed out can help soothe your fight-or-flight response.
Soothe Yourself to Sleep
Still convinced you can’t carve out any time in your busy day to meditate? At the very least, take a few moments while you’re lying in bed at the end of the day to breathe deeply and consciously empty your mind. You can count, or repeat a simple mantra—anything to keep your mind from racing through all the things you need to do tomorrow. You may fall asleep in seconds, but that’s OK. “If all meditation teaches you is how to get to sleep at night, that’s still a great thing,” Dillard-Wright says.