Time management Monday: Very quick and simple yet very effective meditation exercises

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I was never into meditation, despite heaps of research showing what a positive impact it makes on people’s emotional well-being. It’s hard for me to focus, and I don’t have the time. Or so I thought. Just a few minutes per day has made a huge difference for me, and it can for you too.

I always thought I would have to spend at least half an hour meditating in order to notice any benefit, but that’s not the case at all. I get a very effective calming and relaxation experience in 5 minutes, and the benefits are cumulative. If I’m able to do a little bit two or three times throughout the day, that’s even better. But even just five minutes per day, every day, has been so helpful for me.

There are lots of ways to meditate. It might take some experimentation to figure out what works best for you. A couple of common methods are guided imagery (where you imagine a scene in detail), or imagining going through your body part by part, tensing all those muscles and then relaxing them.

I don’t find these methods helpful because I’m already too internally-focused. I need something that gets me out of my own head. And I need something simpler. Here are two methods that work great for me:

Breathing exercises: Studies show that rhythmic breathing calms the central nervous system. Breathing exercises, chanting (like monks do) and singing all work for this.

Here is the breathing exercise that has made an enormous difference for me:

Breathe in for two counts, out for three counts, three times; breathe in for three, out for 4, 4 times; in 4, out 5, 5 times; in 5, out 6, 6 times; in 6, out 7, 7 times. Don’t just breathe for the counts. Inhale strongly each count, and puff out hard on each count. This is where the rhythmic part comes in. This sounds really simple, but it works so well. Don’t think about anything else except breathing deeply, exhaling completely by the end of the count, and counting your breathing.

Not only does this help soothe your nervous system and calm you down, it gets you to breathe all the way to the bottom of your lungs which feels great. It made me realize how shallowly I had been breathing, all the time. After I do this I’m able to breathe more deeply for the rest of the day. Warning: the first time I did this, I had an emotional response and started to cry. I don’t know why. (I think it was because I was so stressed at the time and the breathing released all that.) If that happens to you, or you get another type of physical or emotional response, leave it and come back to it later. But keep at it. The second time I did this I was fine, and the more I do this the better I feel. I do my breathing exercises as soon as I can do them in the morning, and a couple more times througout the day. It only takes a few minutes, but it completely resets my system and calms me right down.

Find a quiet spot to do your breathing exercises, outside if possible. If not, look out the window or at a picture of something nice, but neutral. Don’t look at anything that will make you think of something else. You want your mind to be empty while you are doing this so you can focus on your breath and the counts.

Focusing on an object: This is another exercise I find helpful to get out of my head for a little while. Take a small object like a rock, coin, shell, leaf, etc. And just hold it. Look at it, notice all the features. Look at the colors and shapes in it. Feel it and notice the texture and temperature. Just be with it for awhile. Notice everything about it that you can. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back. I find it hard to focus on an object for more than a couple of minutes without my mind wandering, but I’m getting better at it.

Don’t use anything that has any personal or emotional significance or will remind you of anything, because then you will be thinking about that. The point is to empty your mind and focus entirely on the object.

A step up from this is to use a raisin, almond, grape, or similar small piece of food, so you can use all your senses. Hold it, touch it: what does it feel like? Look at it, really notice all the ridges or the smoothness. Smell it, what does it smell like? Put it in your mouth and feel the texture of it. Notice the taste. Really experience it.

Something else you can try is to sit and do nothing for 5 minutes. Literally do nothing. Close your eyes, empty your mind, and just breathe for 5 minutes. This is actually really hard to do, especially at first, so you might try working your way up to a certain number of minutes.

Like I said, try out some meditaton methods and see what works for you. You might find different methods work better at different times. For example when I’m stressed or anxious I can’t settle down enough to focus on an object, but my breathing exercises calm me down.

Meditation doesn’t have to take a lot of time to have a large positive influence on your emotional state and feeling of calm. Try 5 minutes per day and see how you feel.

Do you meditate? What works for you?

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