Texts. E-mails. News alerts. Endless to-do lists. We get it: it’s hard to step away from the day-to-day without wanting to pull out your phone every five seconds. But despite our subconscious need to stay wired, the best thing for your sanity is taking the time to step back every once in a while. All it takes is a few minutes every day to feel the positive effects of meditation – both the short-term relaxation, and the improved productivity, creativity, and energy that’ll come in the long run.
We’re paraphrasing here, but research shows that refocusing our attention to our bodies and our environments activates a relaxed state that’s tied to a host of positive health outcomes, both physical (better sleep) and mental (enhancing cognitive function by breaking you out of a mental rut). Plus, your friends and colleagues will be super impressed by your ability to keep your cool in the face of stressful situations. Boss needs a report started at 5pm on a Friday? No problem.
Getting Your Om On
Taking the time to create a space for yourself with minimal distractions can help to cultivate a more relaxed state – and can actually be a way of practicing mindfulness in and of itself. If you’re going to meditate in your living room or bedroom, make sure your laptop is closed and the TV is off. If there’s lots of clutter like stacks of mail or dirty mugs, consider clearing it away so you don’t have to fight the urge to deal with it later. Think of the state of your space as a visual representation of the state of mind you’d like to achieve: empty, bright, and open.
If you need a respite from the hustle and bustle of the office or noisy city life, pop on some headphones and use low-key, atmospheric music to drown out any distractions. If you’re in the comfort of your own home, candles or incense can help to awaken your senses and add an extra layer of relaxation (and you’ll have a pretty rad-smelling room afterward).
For the more tech- and goal-oriented folks, or anyone with a subway commute, you can try out a guided meditation app like Headspace and Calm – they lead you through a number of routine meditations tailored to your needs and interests.
In the end, the beauty of meditating is that you can practice it pretty much anywhere in a number of different ways. What matters is finding the approach that works best for you, so don’t get caught up in doing it "right" – that’s counterproductive. Instead, be forgiving of yourself and keep moving forward. You’ll come out all the better for it.
How to Do It
For beginners, it’s best to start small and set achievable goals that build over time. It might seem slow at first, but you’ll notice changes even from day one.
Try a week of meditation for 3–5 minutes at whatever time of day that works best for you, then gradually build on as you get more accustomed to the feeling of letting go. It’s recommended that you meditate before meals, since unfortunately, food comas are not conducive to meditation. But if you’re trying to overcome the afternoon slump and will be distracted by your stomach, have a snack, or a cup of tea, or something before getting started.
Step One: Get Comfortable
After you’ve prepared your space for meditation, sit yourself down in a chair or on the floor in an upright position. You might want to support your back with a pillow so you can comfortably sit up straight, which will also help optimize deep and even breathing. Crossed legged with finger “O’s” isn’t necessary, but if that works best for you, go for it.
Step Two: Just Breathe
One of the most foundational elements of meditating is being aware of your breathing. Once you’ve sat yourself down and made yourself comfortable, close your eyes and begin taking deep and intentional breaths. You might try slowly counting your breaths from one to ten and repeating as necessary. As you breathe, notice how your body moves: the way air fills up in your lungs before you push it back out, the way your chest moves up and down. Your mind will unintentionally wander, and that’s completely normal – just acknowledge your thoughts, let them go, and return to your breathing rhythm as before. Simple as that.
Step Three: Smile
We know it sounds cheesy (and you may get a few stares on the train), but smiling is a powerful way to keep your meditation uplifted. Research shows that smiling can lead to a more positive attitude, so why not prime yourself to be happier as you meditate? We’re not talking a big toothy grin. Just a relaxed smile – the rest will follow.
Feeling waves of calm washing over you yet? Once you begin practicing, push yourself to do it eight days straight – by then, you’ll be a lot more likely to stick to the habit and will be well on your way to a de-stressed state.