Maybe you’ve heard all about the benefits of meditation—stress and anxiety relief, reduced blood pressure and improved mental and emotional health, to name just a few—but haven’t yet stuck your toe into the Zen waters. "It sounds nice," you might think, "but I’m way too busy."
Perhaps the word "meditation" brings to mind sitting cross-legged in a quiet, dark room with soft music playing, maybe a fountain trickling softly in the corner, your eyes closed as every last thought, worry and concern magically exits your brain, leaving your mind peacefully empty and serene.
In other words, an impossible scenario.
When you’re juggling a job, a family, a busy household and personal obligations, your never-ending to-do list has a way of migrating to your brain, serving up a constant stream of niggling reminders, questions and musings. How are you supposed to achieve anything close to proper meditation with all of that noise going on in there?
The short answer: Meditation is easier than you might think.
An Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation
Julie Frischkorn, LCSW and founder of The Pittsburgh Wellness Collective, teaches and practices mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation can take many different forms—and it can be done practically anytime, anywhere.
"Mindfulness meditation can help people better manage the stress at hand, so they can ultimately feel more successful in reaching their personal and professional goals," Frischkorn explains. "It brings our attention to what is happening for us, as individuals, in the present moment. When we don’t get caught up in dwelling on the past or thinking about the future, we are able to unpack what is happening for us so we can choose how to respond."
Mindfulness meditation in and of itself won’t solve life’s stressors—those will always be there. But it does help you respond to them from a place of thoughtfulness and intention and to be proud of your choices, Frischkorn notes.
And if your mind starts flooding with thoughts every time you try to meditate, it is not an indication that you aren’t built for meditation, she says. "This happens to all of us when we begin to slow down and pay attention to what is going on in the moment," Frischkorn says. "Our minds are like a jungle and our inner monkeys are always swinging from tree to tree. We just usually are not conscious of this because we are operating on autopilot. Mindfulness meditation makes us aware of this and begins to rewire the brain for focus."
And don’t expect to suddenly become a master meditator on your first try. "It’s called practice for a reason," Frischkorn points out. "It takes time and patience to learn to slow down, notice our thoughts in real time and see them clearly to determine how to manage them."
4 Examples of Mindfulness Meditation for Busy People
Practice #1: Body Movement
As Frischkorn points out, it’s a myth that meditation has to be still or calm. If you have trouble remaining quiet and focusing on a traditional breathing practice, moving meditation could be a better fit.
Frischkorn suggests doing a progressive muscle relaxation, where you clench and release each body part starting with your toes and moving all the way up to your forehead. "When your thoughts start to wander to your to-do list, simply bring your focus back to the body part that you are focused on and tense and release those muscles," she says.
You could also try a walking meditation, where you focus on the feeling of each footstep as it makes contact with the pavement. "Each time you get distracted, say to yourself ‘right’ or ‘left’ as that foot lands, or feel the weight of your body pressing onto the ground," Frischkorn suggests.
Practice #2: Visualization Exercise
Instead of fighting to keep your thoughts away, Frischkorn suggests using them to your advantage by making them part of your meditation session. With your eyes closed, begin to focus on your breath, slowly breathing in and out. Next, instead of trying not to think, simply allow your thoughts to come up. These can be anything from what you have to do that day to a tropical destination you’ve been dreaming of visiting. Now, imagine that you are watching a movie screen and each of those thoughts is being projected onto it, then simply watch the thought as it is projected. Try not to stay with each thought for too long—when it passes, allow the next one to arise.
Practice #3: Counting
Another alternative to a traditional breathing practice is allowing counting to be an anchor for your focus. Frischkorn suggests doing this by taking 10 good breaths—breathe in and out, count to one, then breathe in and out, count to two, and so on. If you lose your focus and get distracted, simply start from the beginning.
"Another way to incorporate counting is to breathe normally and focus on the length of your inhale and exhale," Frischkorn says. "Notice the count or length of your inhale and see if it matches your exhale. You don’t need to change it—just notice it."
Practice #4: One-Minute Meditation
To start your day with a sense of calm intention, Frischkorn suggests doing a one-minute meditation after parking your car and before walking into the office. Perhaps you’ve been stewing over a big project or work deadline, which is causing you to feel emotionally overwhelmed. You might even notice that you are clenching your jaw, holding tension elsewhere in your body or feeling the effects of too much caffeine.
"Now that you have this deeper awareness, brought on by peeling back a layer of the onion, you can ask yourself, ‘What do I need in this moment, before I start my day?’" says Frischkorn. "Do you need to ask for help? Do you need to take an early lunch break? Would a mid-day walk be helpful?"
By the end of the minute, you will likely feel calmer, more centered and more in touch with your feelings and needs.
18 Easy Ways to Practice Mindfulness in Daily Activities
Overall, Frischkorn says, the best types of mindfulness meditation for busy people are the ones that can be done on the go. So that it doesn’t end up feeling like just another chore, she suggests introducing mindfulness meditation as something you can do WHILE you do life.
"An informal meditation practice can be done during any of your daily activities," Frischkorn says. "Choose a behavior and make a conscious choice to use mindfulness skills, bringing your full attention to the present moment over and over again during that set period of time."
The secret to an effective informal practice is to choose an activity that you do regularly, she says. "The challenge is to stay focused and observe. When you find yourself having thoughts of the past or the future, judgments about your current state or mild physical discomfort, consciously bring your attention back to what you are doing in the present moment."
The two biggest benefits of this type of meditation? "You don’t have to take time out of your schedule to have a regular mindfulness practice, and you don’t have to be enthusiastic about it to yield positive results—you just have to do it!" Frischkorn says.
Frischkorn shares some of her favorite ways to incorporate mindfulness meditation during regular, everyday activities.