Meditation Tricks for a Busy Body

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then, you should sit for an hour.” That’s the wise advice of an old Zen proverb.

You may be familiar with the concept of meditation and the benefits of the practice, but on some days finding a quiet 20 minutes seems impossible—or at least unfathomably self-indulgent.

A recent study shows that a regular meditation practice resulted in physical changes to the brain, including increased gray matter and more volume in areas that control focus, cognition, memory, perspective and compassion. The amygdala, which is responsible for feelings of fight or flight, shrank, and participants reported feeling less stress.

So, meditation is the real deal, and if you’re too busy to do it, then you’re the perfect candidate to start. Find time for more mindfulness in your day by selecting a meditation method that puts you on the right path to peace.

Yoga Nidra: Bedtime is the perfect time to unwind, making Yoga Nidra a comfortable and convenient practice. Known as “yogic sleep,” Yoga Nidra takes place during the in-between time of wakefulness and slumber, with the practitioner relaxing her body as she listens to audio cues that bring awareness to her internal state. Yoga Nidra Lite is a good app to get you started and is available for free for iOS and Android.

Walking Meditation: If you prefer to be on the move, walking meditation is an option with some action. Walking meditation is a grounded, more physical practice that can be done alone or through a guided meditation audio file or app. Awareness centers systematically around different body parts, usually from the ground up, visualizing the motion of each with a nonjudgmental check-in of physical sensation. The focus and concentration involved in this whole-body analysis helps clear a busy mind and reminds you to experience the world as it is—for what you can see, feel and touch right here and now. A Walking Meditations app is available for Apple or Android for $1.99 if you’re looking for some audio guidance.

The introduction of pranayama, or alternate nostril breathing, is a simple technique that took my yoga practice beyond asana. Nadi means “channel,” and shodhana means “cleansing” or “purifying.”

Some of the benefits of pranayama include:

  • Balance to both the right and left hemispheres of the brain
  • Reduction of anxiety and stress
  • Lowered heart rate to relieve tension
  • Revitalization of a tired mind and body
  • Purification of the body’s channels, so that prana, or life force energy, can travel more easily
  • Regulation of the cooling and warming cycles of the body
  • Preparation for deeper meditation

Alternate Nostril Breathing, Step-By-Step

Alternate nostril breathing can be useful for both the beginning and seasoned yoga practitioner. Below is a basic intro to alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana.

  1. Find a comfortable seat. Come into Sukhasana (Easy Pose), or sit on a blanket or pillow. Feel your sit-bones ground you as you lift ever so slightly from the crown of the head, creating a long spine. Rest your left palm on your left knee, moving your right hand towards the nose.
  2. Using the right thumb, softly close the right nostril, and inhale as slowly as you can through the left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Pause. Open and exhale slowly through the right nostril.
  3. With the right nostril open, inhale slowly, then close it with the thumb. Pause. Exhale through the left nostril. Once your exhalation is complete, inhale through the left. Pause before moving to the right.
  4. Repeat this pattern five to ten times, and then release the right hand to the right knee. Ease back into normal breathing.

Notes and Recommendations

Advanced pranayama, such as longer breath retention, should be practiced with a skilled teacher. If your nasal passages are blocked in any way, wait until they are clear before initiating nadi shodhana. Do not begin a breathing practice if you suffer from shortness of breath or high blood pressure.

You can start alternate nostril breathing in the morning before launching into your day, or later, when you need an afternoon pick-me-up. It can be included as an opening or closing to your yoga practice. This accessible introduction to pranayama can add balance and nourishment to your life.

If you’re too busy for mindfulness and meditation, then you’re the one who needs it most. Even if you can’t commit to 20 minutes daily, find some time to regularly restore and renew. Like many things that are good for us, a regular meditation practice can be difficult to begin, but you’ll gain momentum (and gray matter) as you get going, so start breathing and commit to finding time for your mind.

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