How To Use Micro-Meditations To Find a Moment of Presence and Calm Wherever You Are

Photo: Getty Images/ Nitat Termmee
Any given day, your attention can be pulled in a hundred different directions. Depending on how much you’re juggling, you may find yourself grasping for some outlet for stress relief. Mindfulness practices have scientifically-backed benefits for physical and mental health, and yoga class or extended meditation sessions could do wonders, but sometimes even that feels like too much time to give up. The good news is that sprinkling micro-meditations throughout your day can give you a much needed feeling of calm, no matter how packed your schedule is, without requiring you to block out much time on your calendar.

Experts In This Article

What are micro-meditations, and how do they differ from longer meditations?

Micro-meditations are basically just shorter meditation sequences. They range in type, and can include breathwork, visual meditations, or any mindfulness practice you enjoy, just bite sized. In general, micro-meditations range from about one to five minutes long, according to Susan Chen, founder of Susan Chen Vedic Meditation in New York. They are also a great way to get acquainted with meditation if you're not familiar, can't concentrate during a longer meditation, or haven't found the right method yet, Chen adds. "There's not just one type of meditation out there, and these micro-meditations are a really great way to begin," she says.

But when we say micro, we’re not talking about diminished benefits—just length. There are many well-established benefits of meditation, including lowering inflammation, and even just three minute meditations are enough to bust stress and boost calm. You don’t need to be an expert at meditating to reap the benefits, either; a 2019 study published in Behavioural Brain Research looked at what happened when adults who weren't experienced meditators completed four weeks of 13 minute guided mindfulness meditations—they reported being in a better mood, and feeling more attentive. The study also found that "relatively short" meditation practices had similar benefits to longer, more intensive meditations.

"The key here is quality, not quantity...if you take just a little time [to meditate] and fully invest your attention that would be more beneficial."—Viktoriya Karakcheyeva, MD, psychologist

But adding one more thing into the day is easier said than done, so how do you go about fitting a micro-meditation into a busy schedule? Both Chen and Viktoriya Karakcheyeva, MD, director of behavioral health at the Resiliency and Well-Being Center at George Washington University’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences, recommend trying a quick meditation whenever you have some spare minutes to focus—just be sure to do so when you’re able to devote your full attention to reap the benefits. “The key here is quality, not quantity,” says Dr. Karakcheyeva. "You can meditate for a long time without being too invested and it may not produce results, but if you take just a little time and fully invest your attention that would be more beneficial."

5 types of micro-meditations to try

1. Alternate nostril breathing

Chen says she recommends this meditation to her students because it’s easy and fast. Also known as nadi shodhana, alternate nostil breathing relies on a yoga principle called pranayama to manage breath by covering one nostril at a time and breathing. “It's literally moving the breath away from the left to the right nostril in a systematic way,” says Chen.

Here’s how to do it: With your lips closed and tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth, place your right thumb on your right nostril and the middle or ring finger of the same hand on the left nostril. Close your right nostril and inhale through the left, then close the left nostril and exhale through the right. Then inhale through the right, and exhale through the left. Repeat this alternating pattern as many times as you want.

2. Staircase meditation

Breathwork meditations can help calm the nervous system, and Dr. Karakcheyeva has a short one for you to try that she calls "staircase meditation." Imagine stacking your breaths on top of one another, which she likens to climbing a staircase: Inhale for one count, then exhale for one count. Next, inhale for two counts, then exhale for two counts. After that is—you guessed it—inhale for three counts, exhale for three counts. You can continue for as long as you want. Don't strain yourself with this, though; go for as long as is comfortable. When you reach the top of your staircase, head back down by reducing the length of each inhale and exhale by a count until you get back to one.

3. Resonant breathing

This easy breathing technique has been shown to improve mood and lessen anxiety by decreasing the heart rate. It's also almost comically simple to do: “The only requirement is exhaling for more seconds than you’re inhaling,” says Chen. To start, try inhaling for two seconds and exhaling for four, or inhaling for three seconds and exhaling for five. Repeat as many times as needed.

4. Visualization

This is a simple exercise that Dr. Karakcheyeva says pretty much anyone can do. Visual meditations are all about picturing pleasing situations and images. One way Dr. Karakcheyeva practices this herself is to assign visuals like colors, shapes, temperatures, and textures to the physical and mental sensations she's feeling when stressed.

For example, let's say you find yourself feeling uneasy and notice that your shoulders feel tense and tight. Try to assign some visuals to that feeling, so "you can start to manipulate [those feelings]," she says. "You can say, that tension in my shoulder looks like a red pulsating ball, and I'm going to try to change that color to something like a little less intense, like purple." She recommends really focusing on these images to redirect your brain away from the stress.

5. Say a helpful mantra

Use words of affirmation to put your mind at ease. Come up with a simple phrase, for example “May I be well, may I be healthy, may I be happy.” When you need to ground yourself, simply take some deep breaths, and repeat your phrase as often as you need to. “Maybe you’re having a tough day and you’re not sure when it’s going to be over, so you can pause, notice what’s going on, and say that mantra to give something good to yourself,” says Dr. Karakcheyeva.

Feel free to test out all of the above mini-meditation methods or find another that works for you like a meditation app, for example.  And you don’t have to wait until you’re feeling stressed to use these techniques—taking a few moments out of your day to practice mindfulness can have preventative effects too when it comes to mitigating stress and tension.

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