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How to Meditate When You Have No Time

So you’ve downloaded a mindfulness app or maybe even been on a course.  You’ve started to experience for yourself the benefits to your wellbeing, many of them unexpected, that regular meditation can bring.  You KNOW it’s good for you and you want to keep practising.  But somehow life gets in the way.  A busy work schedule and the demands of home and family life mean that most people who want to meditate simply cannot find the necessary hours in the day. The irony is that those of us who are constantly on the go are the ones who would probably benefit the most from meditating.  So if you’re just not finding the time you need to meditate, here are some ideas to help you along.

It’s About Focus

Mindfulness, the secular answer to meditation, is all about training the mind to focus on the present moment. We do this, not only by listening to guided meditations which focus on the breath, sensations in the body and sounds but also by trying to incorporate focusing exercises into our daily lives.  So if you are too busy right now to set time aside for formal meditation, you could still get some of the benefits of mindfulness from practising engaging as thoroughly as possible with just about any activity in your daily life. Here are a couple of examples:

Wake up and smell the coffee

Next time you make yourself a cup of coffee, make a positive effort to focus as thoroughly as possible on what you are doing.  If you’re using a coffee machine, listen properly to the noise the machine makes.  Try to avoid judging whether you like the sound or not.  Just fully engage with it.  If you’re making instant coffee, focus on the scent of the granules and the sensations and sounds when scooping the granules out of the jar. Don’t immediately drink the coffee.  Watch the steam rising from the cup.  Put your hands around it and feel the warmth.  Now bring your face closer and smell the aroma and feel the heat against your face.  When you take that first sip, swirl the liquid around different parts of your mouth.  Can you notice different tastes as the liquid moves along different parts of the tongue?  When you swallow, can you feel the heat passing down through your body?

Brushing Your Teeth

No matter how busy you are, you hopefully still find time to brush your teeth.  So next time, try to do it mindfully. How does it feel to squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube?  How does the paste smell and look?  As you start to run the water, engage your senses with the sound of the water gushing out of the tap.  How does it feel when you start to brush up and down against your teeth?  Is the feeling different as you move the brush to different parts of your mouth?

Do you get the general idea? Start by choosing a couple of daily activities, whether it’s driving to work, ironing a shirt or reading a book to a two-year-old.  Anything that you do can be turned into a mindful activity.  It won’t be easy, to begin with.  At first, you’ll probably find that thoughts about other things come crowding into your head, distracting you from what you are doing.  When this happens, don’t judge yourself.  Just notice that you’ve had the distracting thought and gently bring your attention back to the task you’re doing.  With practice, you’ll get better at noticing the distracting thoughts as they arise and returning your attention to what you are doing. The more you practice, the easier you will start to find it to focus on any activity, and you’ll probably find over time that you are wasting less of your mental energy on ruminating over the past or worrying about the future. You may well find that your improved focus makes you more productive and creative.

Guided Meditations

Listening to guided meditations is a more formal way of training yourself to focus on the current moment.  Ideally, this practice should be used alongside mindful living. Many regular meditators find the easiest time to set aside for this practice is first thing in the morning before the day starts making its demands on your time, or last thing at night, as part of your wind-down routine.  But if you cannot bear the thought of setting the alarm 20 minutes earlier, and you’d just fall asleep if you tried meditating last thing at night, then don’t beat yourself up about it.  Just try incorporating a few mindful activities into your daily routine and maybe take a few moments to focus on your breath during the day.

Just Breathe

At stressful moments of the day, or when you just want to take a short time out to give yourself extra inner strength for the next task, try practising a short breathing exercise.  You can do this without anybody noticing. You can do this activity in a matter of seconds or over several minutes.  If possible, close your eyes, although it’s OK to keep them open if you don’t want to look too weird in your open-plan office or in the queue at the grocery store checkout.  Now focus your attention on the sounds around you; sounds in the room and sounds from outside.  Don’t go looking for them.  Let the sounds come to you.  Try not to judge whether you like the sound or not. Just accept it for what it is.  After a few moments let the sounds fade into the background.  Bring your attention to your breath.  You don’t need to change your breath; just focus properly on how it feels. Feel the breath as it enters your nose.  How does it feel as it moves down the throat into your body?  Notice the short space between each in-breath and each out-breath.  Notice how one breath differs slightly from the next. When you are ready to stop, bring your attention back to the sounds around you and the sensation of your bodily contact with the chair or floor.  Now open your eyes and carry on with your day with renewed energy and focus.

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Johanna Lynch

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