Meditation is more than just a stress buster. New research shows it can help boost creativity; another review found it could reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and it could even improve decision making, in addition to a host of other health benefits.
But how can you embark on a serene course of meditation when you can barely quiet your multitasking brain long enough to finish tasks at home or at work? Here, five tips from meditation guru Amit Sood, MD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living.
Pick an activity that works for you
One assumption novices make is that you have to sit in a corner chanting “ommm” for meditation to work. But that’s a fallacy, says Dr. Sood. You can incorporate it into everyday activities, like your workout. If you’re running, for example, instead of listening to your iPod, silently repeat “peace” every time your foot strikes the ground. After a few minutes, you’ll find you’re chanting the word automatically and have entered a contemplative state.
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Grab a moment of gratitude
An easy way to get in a quick meditative moment is to sit down and take two minutes (yes, you can set your cell phone timer!) to think about five people in your life you’re grateful for. Start with the first one, and quickly run down the many ways this person has helped you. Now move to the second one, and imagine looking deep into their eyes. The third one, visualize giving them a quick, firm hug. By evoking images of folks who care about you, you’re releasing positive energy that will stay with you the rest of the day.
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Most people only meditate for 3 to 5 minutes when they first start the habit, according to data collected by the folks behind the goal-tracking app Lift. Dr. Sood suggests this simple exercise: Sit quietly and as you breathe in, imagine your brain filling with light. Exhale. Breathe in again, imagining your heart filling with light, then exhale. Repeat (rotating between brain and heart) for two to three minutes.
Wish others well
When you walk around the office, silently send each co-worker you see a wish. It can be specific—“I wish you well in your meeting with the boss this morning” or it can be general “I wish you health and happiness and general well-being.” Do it for everyone, even people you’re indifferent about or dislike: “It removes any sense of hostility or competitiveness you might feel towards others and replaces it with positivity, which is energizing,” says Dr. Sood.
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Turn to an app
If you don’t find any of these techniques helpful—or you crave more—there are plenty of apps out there to keep you meditating in the moment. (Sixty-two percent of people who meditate more than three days a week use a meditation app, according to Lift.) A few to try: Mayo Clinic Meditation ($2.99), Stop Breathe & Think (free), and Mental Workout (free). Or try one of the free guided meditations suggested by Lift.
The good news is if you stick with it, it’s likely to become automatic: people who meditated for 11 days were more than 90% likely to continue to a 12th day, according to the Lift survey.
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