Yes, you know that meditation is beneficial for your health and well-being, and that because it can reduce stress, it may also help you live longer. But what if you just can’t find a half-hour, or hour every day, to commit to the practice? It just doesn’t seem right that trying to work meditation into your busy schedule should cause you anxiety!
Enter the mini-meditation: a short but effective sampler that provides an oasis of calm in a hectic day. No cushion required: you can do it with your eyes open, at your desk, on a bus, or in the checkout line at the grocery store. (Of course - don’t try it while driving.)
These instructions come courtesy of Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, and one of the founders of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It’s a technique that’s been proven in multiple studies to ward off depression, even in people who’ve suffered repeated episodes of the debilitating disorder. Reprinted with his permission from his 2011 book Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, here is a brief session in mindfulness meditation, designed to take only a few minutes. Try it! You may find the effects last all day – not a bad return on such a brief investment of time.
Three-Minute Breathing Space Meditation
Step One: Becoming aware
Deliberately adopt an erect and dignified posture, whether sitting or standing. If possible, close your eyes.
Then, in Step One bringing your awareness to your inner experience and acknowledge it, asking: What is my experience right now?
- What thoughts are going through the mind? As best you can, acknowledge thoughts as mental events.
- What feelings are here? Turn toward any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging them without trying to make them different from how you find them.
- What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing, acknowledging the sensations, but, once again, not trying to change them in any way.
Step 2: Gathering and focusing attention
Now, in Step Two, redirecting the attention to a narrow "spotlight" on the physical sensations of the breath. Move in close to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen… expanding as the breath comes in…. and falling back as the breath goes out. Following the breath all the way in and all the way out. Using each breath as an opportunity to anchor yourself into the present. And if the mind wanders, gently escort the attention back to the breath.
Step 3: Expanding attention
Now, in Step three, expanding the field of awareness around the breathing so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and facial expression, as if the whole body was breathing. If you become aware of any sensations of discomfort, tension, feel free to bring your focus of attention right in to the intensity by imagining that the breath could move into and around the sensations. In this, you are helping to explore the sensations, befriending them rather than trying to change them in any way. If they stop pulling for your attention, returning to sitting, aware of the whole body, moment by moment.
When you are ready, begin to move your fingers and toes; allowing the eyes to open and taking in your surroundings again.
That’s it! Williams says the Three-Minute Breathing Space exercise was designed as a portable, “emergency meditation”, to help you identify negative thoughts that arise throughout the day, as well as to help you remain calm in the face of daily pressures. He recommends practicing the Breathing Space twice a day. While it’s not intended to replace longer meditations, this exercise may offer a more realistic option when you’re busy, anxious or stressed, and time is short (that is, just when you need it the most!).
Mark Williams and Danny Penman. “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.” Rodale Press. 2011. Also: Personal correspondence with the author, June 2012.
Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. "The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing yourself from Chronic Unhappiness." Guilford Press. New York. 2007.