If finding time to sit still makes you crazy, here are 7 meditation exercises for stress relief that take just 5 minutes each!
Meditation sounds so simple. But with the baby crying, the phone ringing and the next meeting about to start, there’s little time to slow down and get centered.
However, a short break – as little as a few minutes – offers a host of stress-relieving health benefits.
The National Institutes of Health are currently sponsoring studies on its use to ease a wide range of issues, including asthma, hot flashes, chronic back pain, high blood pressure and lack of mental focus.
As it turns out, women are natural meditators because we’re more in tune with the sensory forces around us, says Camille Maurine, co-author of Meditation Secrets for Women (HarperOne).
So how do you tune out of the daily grind and plug in to nature?
Here are 7 active meditation exercises that don’t require regular classes or tons of experience. In fact, some take surprisingly little time and effort.
1. Take a hike – It’s almost impossible not to reach a meditative state when you’re walking in nature. The relaxation begins the moment your foot hits the trail. In natural surroundings, you can relax and notice the color and shape of each flower, the scent of plants and trees, the songs of birds in the distance. There’s so much to pay attention to that you can focus on the present without effort. It’s a good antidote to urban distractions. “In nature, the senses bring us easily into the moment,” says Amona Buechler, president of Inner Metamorphosis University, a Chicago nonprofit that offers classes in several types of active meditation.
How to do it: Walk in a park, a nature preserve, or any other place where you can get farther from civilization.
If that sounds like too much of a hassle, start closer to home. The benefits of meditation can begin right outside your door.
As you inhale fresh air and listen to the rustle of leaves, feel your leg muscles pumping and breath in your lungs. Then sit on a rock for a few moments to savor the beauty and enjoy the way your body feels.
Reminder: Hike safely. Don’t go alone unless it’s on a well-traveled path in a safe place. Bring water and a cell phone.
2. Get lost in dance – Fast, energetic movement loosens you up and engages both spirit and body. It focuses your attention on motions – and emotions – instead of on thoughts. The whirling dervishes of the Sufis – with their spinning, trancelike dances – are the embodiment of meditation through dance. But any free-form dancing can have a similar effect.
How to do it: First, stand for a couple of minutes with eyes closed, breathing through your nose. Slow your breath and calm your mind.
Then, play some dynamic and rhythmic instrument-only music. Lyrics engage your thoughts, and the idea here is to quiet your mind.
Go into an expressive, improvised dance, feeling free to shout, hum along or even sing at the top of your lungs. Use your arms, change directions as you boogie, and don’t be afraid to exaggerate movements. This is active meditation.
“When you give all your energy to it, something happens,” Buechler says. Distractions melt away when you’re completely focused on the dance. Let the music and movement carry you into an exalted state.
Dance for 20 minutes, or until you get tired. Then lie down, close your eyes, and stay very still for a few minutes to complete this stress-relieving exercise.
3. Mindful eating – When was the last time you really paid attention to your food? Eating is a wonderful opportunity to meditate while you engage in an everyday activity. Slow, attentive, mindful eating – focusing on a food’s texture and chewing until it’s liquid – is also one of the secrets of weight loss, Maurine says. By taking your time to enjoy the sensual pleasures of what you’re eating, you’ll feel more satisfied with smaller portions. That’s because the slow speed gives your body a chance to get the message that it’s full.
How to do it: This meditation is adapted from the “raisin exercise” by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living (Bantam Dell).
First, pick up a raisin and observe its hardness, bumpiness and stickiness in great detail. Look carefully at its color and shape. Smell it.
Place it in your mouth. Notice how it feels on your tongue and the compelling desire to chew and swallow.
Bite into the raisin. What’s the flavor and texture? Chew, noticing how it feels against your teeth and as it passes down your throat.
Repeat with two more. You might find that your appetite is surprisingly satisfied by these 3 raisins.
4. Draw your way to peacefulness – One of the more surprising meditation exercises that allows you to be in the present? Drawing – anything! In her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards (Penguin Putnam) makes artists out of people who thought they could only draw stick figures. “It’s a creative way of engaging with one’s self,” Maurine says. According to Edwards, making art requires you to shift from a verbal, analytical mode to a more perceptual state involving the senses. When you draw, she writes, you “feel alert and aware yet are relaxed and free of anxiety, experiencing a pleasurable, almost mystical activation of the mind.”
How to do it: Turn an unfamiliar black-and-white line drawing upside down.
With a sheet of paper, cover all but the bottom inch. On another sheet of paper, use a pencil to draw exactly what you see. Then move the first paper up another inch and add the new material to your drawing. Continue like this until your version of the drawing is done.
Most people have a picture in their head of what they should draw. By copying what look like random lines amid spaces, you’re paying full attention to what’s really there… and this is the essence of meditation.
5. Stretch toward enlightenment – After a long, stressful day, do you roll your head into different positions, press your shoulders back and reach your arms out? You don’t need anyone to tell you that stretching is a basic form of relaxation and stress relief. Cats do this instinctively. With this meditation exercise, you’ll get that natural ability too. The music and continuous controlled movement will help your mind stay focused on the present. Unlike with yoga, you’ll create your own movements instead of following set poses.
How to do it: Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Play soothing instrumental music, preferably with natural sounds like a stream flowing over rocks.
Starting with the upper body, stretch each muscle group, paying attention to your breath as you move. You might extend your arms and fingers until you feel the stretch, then let your torso follow the movement.
Be aware of how your muscles feel as they stretch. How graceful can you make your movements? Let your body sway slightly, Maurine suggests, and try for a feeling of animal-like sensuality.
“For this kind of stretching, we want almost a melting quality,” she says.
Work your way down the muscle groups to your feet, finally curling and flexing your toes. Lie down for a minute or so to experience how different your body feels.
6. Relax your brain with breath – You probably think you breathe equally through both nostrils all day and night. But in most adults, the nasal passages alternate, becoming more or less congested over a cycle that lasts from 75-200 minutes. A 1994 University of North Carolina study showed that this cycle is linked to brain function.
Although yogis developed alternate-nostril breathing (called Nadi Shodhana) long before scientists discovered the nasal cycle, the principle on which it’s based is remarkably similar. The idea is that alternate breathing through each nostril both calms the mind and raises awareness. It’s certainly the easiest way to pay attention to your breath without your mind straying. The unusual breathing pattern, and the concentration needed to move your fingers correctly, keeps you focused.
How to do it: Sit in a comfortable position.
- Using your right hand, close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril.
- Take your thumb off the right nostril, and close the left nostril with your pinky and fourth finger. Exhale through the right nostril.
- Switch back to your thumb on the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
That completes one round. Repeat 3-5 times. You’ll be amazed at how much more alert and relaxed you feel afterward.
7. Make regular routines more meditative – We take part in daily meditation exercises and don’t even know it. Washing the dishes, brushing our teeth, washing our hair in the shower. Once you’ve become more aware of this pattern, you can practice it consciously and bring new joy into even the most mundane chores. “After a big dinner party, I don’t let anybody help me with the dishes,” Maurine says. “With each new dish I put away, I’m meditating, feeling the love and connection with the people I was with that evening.”
During morning showers, do you think about all the work you have to get done that day? Could you instead listen to the sound of water falling, or begin to feel it cascading over your skin? Use soap with a smell you love and inhale its fragrance deeply.
You get the idea.
Written by Karin Klein
Originally published at Lifescript.com