It’s easy to feel stressed. Demands on our time, a long to-do list and people asking for phone calls and meetings.
There is a way out. If you meditate for even ten minutes, you’ll feel better.
That’s because the body’s stress response is prone to snap judgements. As the Brainwave Research Institute writes, «Much of what activates our primal “fight or flight” response is not something that will kill us – we just think it will.» Our brains are wired, as they say, to over-react.
That can be helpful in the jungle but is less helpful in everyday life. When we’re stressed, it’s hard to make sound decisions. We react automatically to situations rather than acting mindfully. As author and monk Jeff Canon writes in the Huffington Post, fight or flight «can cause us to panic when we should remain calm.»
Meditation brings us out of fight or flight by activating the body’s natural relaxation response. In fact the term «Relaxation Response» was named by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, and it refers to our ability to release chemicals and brain signals that make our muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain. With this, you can access mental agility, the ability to choose your responses throughout the day rather than acting automatically. As Dr. Benson writes in The Relaxation Response, meditation is a great way to get us there.
Below are instructions for a simple but powerful meditation to dramatically reduce stress in your body and mind. To time yourself, simply use the stopwatch app built into your phone! I would suggest not setting an alarm in case you have a deep moment right at the time when the alarm is set to ring. Instead, casually glance down at the stopwatch to mind the time. Sit with your back straight, feet flat on the floor or cross-legged, and point the top of your head towards the sky or ceiling. Close your eyes and let’s begin:
- Focus your attention, your entire mind, on the sensation of the breath as it comes in and out of your nostrils.
- What do you feel?
- What do you notice?
- What sensations come up as your place your mind on the sensation of the breath?
- Do you feel cold sensations? Warm sensations? Does your inhale feel different from the exhale? Notice all of the sensations that come up. Does it feel tingly? Anything else? Study the sensations of your breath, what it feels like as it comes in and out of your nostrils, as closely as you’ve examined anything in your life.
- When a thought comes up, which will happen, smile to yourself. It’s mindfulness to notice you’ve had a thought! This is a great sign.
- Then gently return your attention back to the sensations of the breath.
- As you do this, even if you think your mind is full of thoughts, the meditation is working. You’re releasing stress. Much of the benefit of this meditation is in the return, so don’t be hard on yourself if you keep noticing thoughts. Just smile, watch the thought float away like a cloud, and bring your attention back to the breath.
- If you do this meditation each day, you’ll start to notice it becomes easier to focus on the sensations of the breath. That’s great, and it means you’ll start to find it easier to focus on things throughout the day.
- After ten minutes, or however much time you have, stretch your arms up, stretch your legs out and when you’re ready, gently blink your eyes open. Congrats, you just did a beautiful, powerful mindfulness meditation that has dramatically relaxed you so you can make better decisions for the rest of the day. Enjoy that feeling!
You may want to start doing this meditation for two minutes a day. You can then gradually move up to ten minutes a day. If you can sit for even twenty minutes, you’ll notice a dramatic difference in your day, in how you respond to people and how you feel, too. But every minute counts, so don’t be hard on yourself if you do less. The most important thing is to be consistent. Enjoy the benefits and have a great, mindful, stress-free day!