Meditation is less of a quick fix than a rigorous discipline that requires time, energy and patience. However, one of meditation’s lesser-known perks is its sheer flexibility. Contrary to that image we may conjure of a Tibetan monk piously spending years in complete silence within a monastery, the practice does not need to be carried out in a completely quiet location, in the lotus position, and for extreme durations. Rather, it can be done anywhere, and in a multitude of different ways. And if your excuse for not meditating was ‘I don’t have the time’ you can chuck that straight in the bin. Here are some quick and mindful meditations to try out the next time you get in a tizzy:
Take a minute to put a label on the negative thoughts that are rushing through your head. Question, sort and contextualise them: ‘I am upset because I spilled some coffee over my papers. But I will forget about this is a few minutes.’ As you unpick them you should begin to realise how subjective, and for that matter, trivial, in nature many of them are. Stress, after all, is the anticipation of something happening, not the reality. Coming to terms with what we are feeling, rather than shunning it away, is one of the key aims of traditional meditation and can allow us to be more present.
Those who have undergone a panic attack will know the importance of regulating their breathing, but its usefulness extends to all situations. A good way to ensure deep, calming breaths is by following the 4x4 method: inhale over four seconds, hold for four, exhale over four and hold for four again. This may seem slightly unnatural at first as the intervals feel quite long, and we are aren’t accustomed to putting a conscious effort into breathing (for good reason). Still, the effect is immediate and physiologically transformative.
Walking for no particular reason should not be thought of as time wasted. Rather, as with all of these mini meditations, you might see it as time reclaimed, or perhaps even as an opportunity for new, fruitful things to emerge. Besides, walking has its unique benefits, such as providing a deliberate break from technology, engaging many different senses and boosting creativity.
So walk away from things. Walk out of your house. Walk out of your office. Walk down the hall. Walk into a peaceful spot. Find a slice of nature, a place away from the noise and the congestion. Do not see this as another opportunity to pontificate; try to enjoy the act for what it is. Enjoy the effect of your body in motion, of your respiration and your connection with the outer world. Do this for 30 seconds, and see where it takes you. At the very least, you might find your increased blood flow has given you a new burst of energy.
A custom in many cultures, the exercise of being thankful is an effortless way to put your mind on a positive track, and even to gain more awareness. It simply requires a reflection on all of the good things in your life; perhaps you want to put these down in a list and use it as a reminder for the future, or maybe you want to vocalise this. You could even focus on the good things that are happening right now: the comfort of your socks, the warmth of that cuppa, that rare burst of sunshine. Gratitude is powerful because it helps put our lives in perspective, even when it is not directed towards a specific person or thing.
Environmentalist John Francis did this for 17 years as he got an education, became a teacher and policy maker, and travelled America. For him, the vow of silence was an epiphany, allowing him to understand things which he had previously talked over.
Our own silence, or experience of listening, may be different in nature. We might see it as a chance to get back in touch with ourselves, not necessarily taking it to the extreme and devoted lengths of Mr Francis. If you are feeling overridden in a group conversation, for example, use this as an opportunity to step back. Spend half a minute simply observing your environment, being attentive to the many sonic details surrounding you. In allowing yourself to discover new things, from the world and from people, you are refreshing your viewpoint on life.
Carve out a little space in your day to rediscover your body. This might sound like a hefty task, but it can actually be achieved with a simple series of tensions and releases. First, get into a comfortable position and take your shoes off, allowing some wiggle room for all of your muscles; the floor is a great space for this if practical, though if you are prone to falling asleep easily then pick a comfortable seat instead. Close your eyes if it helps to concentrate, and begin to sense your muscles individually, emphasising them one by one – it may initially feel novel giving attention to parts of the body you usually wouldn’t give a second thought to. You can start by moving them slightly, then tensing for five seconds and releasing as you take deep breaths and exhale. In creating deliberate physical stress you should then gain a palpable sense of relief, as well as feeling more in touch with all of the many wonderful aspects of your body.
Mantras are a common part of many different practices of meditation. They aid focus by bringing the mind’s attention to a singular point, which can actually achieve a similar effect to types of meditation which strive to clear the mind. They can also work as self-affirmations, and charge you with a greater sense of purpose. Pick a short phrase that you can repeat, mentally or verbally, over a short duration; it helps if it is not preposterous, but instead deeply grounded and easily rooted within your identity. It might be fitting to say, for example, ‘I am present’ or ‘I will make the most out of my life, right now.’ Just remember that your mantra is part of the journey, not the reward and be patient with yourself!
At last, we permit you to be childish. Take a break from the drudgery of your usual adult proceedings by making a conscious effort to embody a more playful self. While admittedly not a recognized part of any conventional meditation methodology, it nonetheless has surprising potential as a mindfulness technique.
There are no boundaries to how you might go about this: sketch a doodle on a piece of paper; make ridiculous noises, facial expressions and poses; pop on a high-velocity dance track and boogie until you’re out of breath. By getting in touch with our inner child in this way we are rediscovering the essence of who we are.