Micro-Meditation Will Change Your Life

How to get out of your head for two seconds.

Meditation is hard. If you've ever tried to sit on a cushion and really get into it, then you know it's not all bliss and relaxation. It's hard enough turning off your phone; trying to turn down the endless stream of your own mental apps can be downright anxiety-inducing. But the hard work of sitting quietly has huge rewards—improved mood and reduced stress, to name a couple—so it's a skill worth learning.

Instead of spending all day swept up in the minutiae of your life and your own mental whirlwind, as we all like to do, take a few moments to just experience the present.

Not feeling ready to dive into a full-blown meditation practice right now? That's OK—you can still incorporate mindfulness into your day in smaller ways. Instead of spending all day swept up in the minutiae of your life and your own mental whirlwind, as we all like to do, take a few moments to just experience the present. The American Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron calls this "pause practice"—creating brief pauses in the rush of our lives. We're calling these teeny-tiny meditation sessions "micro-meditations," and you can do them if you're into meditation or not. The important thing is to get out of your head for a few moments and experience your life.

Heads up: Being "in the moment" isn't necessarily some kind of blissful state of inner peace—don't worry if you get to the moment and all you feel is a headache, or that you have to pee. The important thing is to get out of your head for a few moments and experience your life.

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Three Mindful Breaths

Stopping whatever you're doing to just breathe sounds like the easiest thing in the world. Well, it is and it isn't. Just breathe as you normally would, but observe your breathing as you do. Notice what it feels like—in your lungs, in your nose, in your rising and falling abdomen. If it helps to take three deep breaths, then do that. You might be surprised to find that you're impatient even to wait for three breaths to be over, or that you get distracted before you even finish two. Fret not—that means it's working.

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Feel Your Feet

This one works anywhere, but is especially good when you're walking. Instead of racing to wherever you're going, thinking about what you're going to do when you get there, just feel your feet. That's all! Notice how each step feels on the soles of your feet, if the ground feels hard or soft. What do your shoes feel like around your feet? Are they cushiony? Constrictive? Are your heels killing you? Just observe for a few steps. (This is also a good technique for boring meetings or classes.)

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Make a Pile

Our minds may be racing all day, but for some of us, the real mania starts when we go to sleep. Instead of indulging in millions of plans, worries, fantasies, and regrets, give the mind a break and start a bedtime (or insomnia-time) practice of "making a pile." Mentally place each thing that's worrying you into a pile, to be dealt with tomorrow. Project that's stressing you out? In the pile. That difficult talk you need to have with a friend? In the pile. The bills/exams/deadlines/relationship troubles/jeans that won't fit—all in a mental bin marked "for another time."

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Feel the Vibes

As a general rule, paying attention to your body is a good way to get out of your head and experience reality from a different vantage point. And if your environment is providing extra input, take advantage of it to develop your skills. While you're on the bus or in a train or car, take a break from daydreaming to feel the vibrations—of the engine, the road, the rails—in your body. You've probably never noticed how much your body is moving when you're in transit: notice what it feels like. You might feel the rumble of the road on your seat, the veering of the train in your neck, or the bobbing of the bus as the seat touches your back.

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Send Loving-Kindness

This one can be tricky, so don't worry if you're not feeling waves of peace and love for all beings. Most of us aren't. Just practice wishing good things; compassion is like a muscle, and the more you exercise it, the better it will get. Try thinking about someone you care for (it can be a pet!) and wishing something good for them—you can imagine sharing your own happiness or peace with them. Experiment with doing this for someone you're neutral about, and—if you're really up for a challenge—someone you have issues with. Not feeling the love for anyone? That's OK! Send some good wishes to yourself.

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Just Listen

Another good one from Pema Chodron: Take a few moments to just listen to the sounds around you, whether you're in a crowd or in the woods. You don't need to be next to a gurgling brook: just pay attention to whatever you hear and focus on the sounds, rather than getting swept up in thoughts. You may find that a place you thought was quiet is full of annoying sounds, or conversely, that a noisy place actually hums with an interesting rhythm of diverse noises. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back.

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Smile Inside

Waking up is hard to do. Instead of just dragging yourself to the bathroom/coffeemaker first thing, sit up in bed and imagine smiling to yourself on the inside. This one's a bit abstract, but you might be surprised at how comforting it feels to direct a bit of kindness to yourself. Just a little smile, that's all—it can be just a couple seconds—then carry on with your morning routine.

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Be Social

Solidarity can really help you get motivated and stick to a routine. Consider downloading the free Insight Timer app, which allows you to time your meditations with a pretty bell (even if they're only 10-second micro-meditations), see who else is meditating around the world or nearby, try out a guided meditation, or join a group.

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Set Up "Triggers"

A big challenge in cultivating mindfulness is to be mindful enough to remember to do it. So, remind yourself to micro-meditate with triggers. Set reminders on your computer or your phone, or just designate times for micro-meditations: decide to feel the sensation of the phone in your hands every time you're waiting for Snaps to load, or to observe heat sensations when you blow-dry your hair, or take three mindful breaths every time you get a text notification. You can also devote some time to observing sensations while eating (fringe benefit: you'll notice sooner when you're full!).

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Macro-Meditate

Incorporating awareness into your day is a good thing, whether you pursue a meditation practice or not, but if you like these and want to go deeper, consider a retreat. There are so many good meditation centers in the world, many of which offer retreats by donation. Do some research online and see which teachings resonate for you. Some of the good ones include the centers (there are three in the U.S.) in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh (thichnhathanhfoundation.org), the beloved Spirit Rock in California (spiritrock.org), and the many centers worldwide teaching Vipassana (dhamma.org). Pema Chodron's teaching schedule is available at gampoabbey.org.

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