Meditation is a valuable tool for mental health, but working it into a busy schedule can seem challenging.
Dr. Mark Bates, associate director of psychological health promotion at the Deployment Health Clinical Center, recommends several short meditation practices that can fit into your daily routine. These meditation practices can be a good starting point for bringing mindfulness into your everyday life.
“You don’t have to add anything to your day; you can integrate meditation to enhance your day,” Bates said.
It is important to note that relaxation is not the goal of these meditations, even though they may help you relax. Meditators should focus on simply performing the meditation, rather than attaining a specific mood state.
Benefit: This meditation can increase calm and focus during different activities. Focusing attention helps you follow through on completing a goal while reducing distraction.
“A big part of mindfulness practice is being in the moment,” Bates said.
Method: Pick something to focus on. It could be an object, a phrase or even your own breathing. Focus on that one subject. The mind will naturally wander to other things, such as a thought, emotion or sensation. Notice your thoughts or feelings without judgment or reaction. When you notice this, gently re-focus your attention on the initial subject. Pay attention to your five senses as you focus. Notice what you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste, where applicable.
How to work it in: Find an activity in your everyday life, and practice putting all of your focus on that activity and the sensations that arise. In conversation, focus on the other person. Notice not only what they are saying, but also the tone of their voice, how they move and the expressions they make while talking.
Benefit: This meditation prepares you to weather the natural changes in life. It can help you observe, rather than get caught up in, the thoughts and emotions that make changes challenging. This can make it easier to cope with changes, and remain grounded in your sense of self.
“This meditation gives a deeper understanding that an experience is not who you are, but just a weather system coming and going,” Bates said.
Method: During an activity, pay attention to the thoughts that come into your mind. Make note of whatever enters your awareness, and try to observe your thoughts and feelings rather than losing yourself in experiencing them. Try to observe thoughts in the moment as they come and go, rather than looking back on them after they have occurred.
How to work it in: Practice observing your mental experiences during a low-intensity activity such as cooking or exercising. Notice how thoughts, feelings and sensations arise. Rest in moment-to-moment awareness without reacting to your experience. Notice what these thoughts, feelings, and sensations do after they arise, and how they leave your mind.
Benefit: This meditation helps cultivate a sense of purpose and meaning. Anger and fear, which are common motivators, can help accomplish goals in the short term. But they can also increase stress and are usually not sustainable. Compassion meditation helps make kindness the driving purpose behind our actions. This allows for a greater range of responses to challenges, and greater satisfaction in life.
Method: Visualize a loved one, and think of the advice and care you would offer to them. Try to extend that same compassionate thinking to yourself. Be considerate in what you tell yourself and how you say it. Talk to yourself as you would to someon e you hold dear. Consider a mantra such as, “I wish you health, happiness and a peaceful life.”
Ultimately, this practice teaches you to extend positive thoughts and good intentions to friends and acquaintances. Such an attitude is present in the military — service members join to serve and protect their country. Although fellowship is part of military culture, it can be tough to get into the mindset of compassion meditation. Compassion is an important component of the warrior mindset and for those who help service members.
“Compassion can complement the strengths of our military ethos,” Bates said.
How to work it in: When feeling concerned for another person, make note of the way you feel, and how you would offer support to that person. When you see friends or loved ones, focus on your positive feelings for them and how you want to support them. Finally, extend that same comfort and support to yourself.
Working these simple meditations into your life can create meaningful change and make it easier to go deeper into any one of them. If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness exercises, check out related articles on our blog.