When most of us think of meditation, we picture someone sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed. They are surrounded by candles and burning incense. But you don’t have to be in the perfect environment to incorporate a consistent meditation practice into your life. Rather than get discouraged if you don’t have the time to sit somewhere quietly, you can figure out ways to weave meditation into busy days wherever you are.
“Meditation is all about directing your attention,” says yoga and meditation instructor Jessica Crow. “The breath is the best tool to use to do that. Throughout the day, you can set up reminders to refocus your energy. Move it from your thoughts to your breath. Following the breath with your attention, noticing its sensations and rhythm, even slowing or deepening it, can relax you and tune you back into the present moment.”
Ideally, we’d take time each day to sit quietly in stillness. But some days just don’t allow for that. Rather than ditch your practice altogether when your schedule gets hectic, use these tips to incorporate meditation into busy days.
At Your Desk
There’s no better time to briefly meditate than at work, where stress tends to be at an all-time high. Doing a quick body scan is a great way to return to the present moment and build awareness. To begin, close your eyes, and feel the seat your body is resting in. Uncross your legs to let your feet ground into the floor. Lift your spine up straight, and soften your belly. Take a couple of deep breaths, and then allow the breath to move in and out naturally.
“Imagine your attention is like a flashlight and that you can notice any sensations in the physical body just by directing it to a certain area,” Crow says. Start at the feet and move upward (ankles, lower legs, knees, etc.) all the way to the top of the head. “Notice sensations like pressure, heat, cold, fatigue, pain, energy, stagnancy, or whatever else comes up for you,” she says. “But try to just observe them without having much of a reaction or harshly judging yourself. Just notice them, let them be there, and then move to the next body area.”
Waiting in Line
Many people get agitated while waiting in line, which makes it a great time to meditate. You have to kill time anyway. Next time you’re waiting around for something, focus on your breathwork. “If you notice yourself getting anxious or antsy in line, alter your breath,” Crow says. “Briefly see if you’re comfortable with the way you’re standing or sitting, and then start to count your breaths. Inhale for a count of four, and exhale for a count of five. Try to notice the little spaces of stillness between the in-and-out cycles—at the top of the inhale and the bottom of the exhale.”
Your breath will slow down a bit, but it should feel comfortable. Keep breathing like this for a minute or two, or until you notice a calming effect.
Washing the Dishes
When doing repetitive or monotonous actions, the mind oftentimes cycles thoughts on autopilot because conscious attention isn’t in full demand for the task at hand. “Make these activities into a mindfulness practice of watching the thoughts and allowing them to be as they are,” Crow says. Take this time to observe your thoughts without reacting or judging. “Pretend you are just observing, lightly, what is taking place in the monkey mind,” she continues. “You are watching and listening to the patterns of thought that cycle on and on, but the goal is to leave them be.”
If you find yourself trying to add to the story that’s playing out in the mind, take a step back and become the observer once again. “You may notice that the thoughts begin to quiet themselves when you don’t engage with them. There may be even more room for creativity and inspiration in the spaces in between,” Crow says.
On an Airplane
Taking the time to meditate before you travel can set you up for a positive, low-stress experience. Once you’re seated, take a moment to close your eyes and feel your breath rising and falling in your chest. “Visualize a smooth flight that is quiet and peaceful,” Crow says. “Imagine all the other people traveling with you having a comfortable and peaceful experience as well, getting to their destinations safely. If you like, imagine a golden bubble of protection around your plane as it moves through the air to get you safely and swiftly to your destination.” Allow these thoughts to relax you as you feel your energy settle.
While You Commute
Whether you’re driving, walking, biking, or taking the train to work, you can repeat a simple mantra to yourself or out loud. “A word or short phrase with a positive connotation to you will do wonders to set the tone for the day. Repeating mantras or short affirmations has a calming and steeling effect on the brain,” Crow says. She suggests “aum” (“om”), “peace,” “I love you,” “I am confident,” or “I am centered.” “You can use any word or short phrase that inspires you or relates to something you are working on improving personally. Or even a vision you may have for the greater good of the world,” she says.
No matter where you are, there’s always a way to weave meditation into busy days. It just takes some creativity in how you approach your practice.