Whether you’re looking to relieve stress, sharpen your focus, or cultivate more compassion, a short, guided meditation at any time during the day will allow you to step away from whatever you’re doing, take a few deep breaths, and recharge. The beauty of these exercises is that you can practice them pretty much anytime, anywhere.
The many benefits of meditation for our mental and physical health are well-documented: relief from anxiety and depression, chronic pain, lowered blood pressure, and healthier, more restful sleep. These benefits are even greater when we practice meditation consistently.
In fact, the frequency of our meditation is more important than how long they are. According to Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicomb, “the most important thing is finding a time length which feels achievable and keeps us feeling motivated. Without this, it will never become part of an established daily routine.”
Research backs this up. A study published in 2018 showed that while 10 days of Headspace resulted in an 11% decrease in stress, 30 days of Headspace reduced stress by 32%.
So, for example, 5 minutes a day, every day of the week, is likely more beneficial than 20 or 60 minutes one day of the week. This news should be encouraging to meditation beginners, those with busy schedules, or anyone feeling overwhelmed. By practicing even a bite-sized meditation each day, we can feel calmer, clearer, and more content within ourselves over time.
When we set out to create a habit — whether that be starting a short meditation or something else — it’s important not to focus on how long it should take to create the habit (research shows that timeline varies person to person for many reasons). Instead, we should be focused on the work needed to achieve the goal. To form a mini-meditation practice, here’s what’s needed:
1 to 5 minutes a day, any time of day
A space where you can focus for that length of time — nothing fancy, a chair or car, or walk outside will do
Next, comes self-discipline. Establishing any new habit as part of a routine will make sticking to it even easier, and eventually will lead to a healthier kind of self-perpetuating cycle. It might look something like this: Before I brush my teeth, I meditate. After I finish lunch, but before I wash my dishes, I meditate. Before I have my weekly one-on-one with my manager, I meditate. Coupling a mini-meditation up with habits like these that we’ve already formed — or schedules we already follow and prepare for — can make it feel less daunting and easier to stick.
Like Andy said, the best time to meditate is whenever it works best for you. Here are 9 suggestions for when to meditate when you’re short on time — plus 4 meditations to try that are 5 minutes or less:
- Before you get out of bed. Starting your day with a short meditation can relieve early morning grogginess or offer an alternative to scrolling through social media feeds first thing (which can stir up anxiety). Rather than waking up and rushing to your responsibilities without any sense of how you’d like your day to unfold, take a minute before you toss the covers aside to practice a short morning meditation to help find your focus for the day ahead.
- Before work. No matter when your workday starts, show up to your job less frazzled with a clearer head and feeling more in control. A traditional commute — on a train, bus, plane, or carpool — is an ideal time to prepare for the day ahead. If you’re driving, you could take a minute or two to sit before you start the engine. If you work from home, a mindful walk up-and-down the driveway or around the block could mimic a commute minus the traffic.
- Reset during a break. No matter what type of work we do or how we spend our day, we all need some time for ourselves. Consider penciling in a 5-minute meditation when you’re already taking a break: at lunch, when grabbing or making coffee, after you’ve completed a task before moving to what’s next on your to-do list. Maybe even use the minutes before a meeting to meditate for focus, or reboot your energy with a short meditation once the meeting has ended. If we use this in-between time to reconnect with awareness and feel more present, we tend to feel a little lighter and a little calmer in the mind. Think of it as hitting the reset button on the rest of your day.
- De-stress as a team. Work is often a big source of anxiety — the pressure we may feel from looming deadlines, big presentations, client relationships, or hitting goals is something most of us deal with daily. That means if you’re feeling stressed, your co-workers are likely feeling that way too. Gauge interest for a daily group mini-meditation that can be easily penciled in when most of your colleagues have down time, maybe the start or end of the day. Practicing meditation at work can help the entire team be better able to respond to obstacles and challenges more calmly, thoughtfully, and empathetically.
- Take a breather before dinner. Create a little more space for yourself before dinner with a short breathing meditation. Studies show that focused deep breaths encourage our relaxation response, which can slow our heartbeat, lower our blood pressure, and disengage us from distracting (distressing) thoughts and sensations. Meditating before a meal might help us eat more mindfully — to help us tune out the noise of the day and tune into your body to focus on what you need to feel full and satisfied. Take mindful eating to the next level and sit uninterrupted with your food and fellow diners, away from a screen or devices. You might find you eat more slowly and are able to savor the flavor, aromas and textures more than usual.
- Warm up before you move. Incorporating movement into your day isn’t just crucial for physical health, it can improve your physical health, too. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces feelings of anxiety and depression and improves sleep and quality of life. Even a single episode of physical activity provides temporary improvements in cognitive function and state anxiety.
Bringing mindfulness to your exercise routine, then, can help you achieve the ultimate mind-body workout. When you combine the two and bring awareness to your body as you work on your fitness, you become mentally connected to your physical movement, making your workout more efficient. While you exercise, consider setting an intention before you exercise, or focus on your breathing and rhythm to get into a flow. Or, incorporate a mini-meditation into your warm up.
- Quiet the mind after everyone else is asleep. If you live in a large household, with family members, roommates, or with your partner, you know a moment of quiet can be hard to come by. When it does, say after the kids fall asleep, a 1-minute mini-meditation can help you let go of stress from the day feel calmer, and really relish in the silence.
- Wind down in bed. Unlike our electronics, we humans aren’t hardwired to power off with the push of a button — we’re not meant to stay amped up all day and then drop into sleep like a stone. Gradually slow down with a short sleep meditation using a visualization technique designed to relax the body and the mind, so you can more effortlessly sink into the mattress and peacefully drift off. Sleep by Headspace* in the Headspace app offers a library of Wind downs, more short meditations designed to help you have a good night.
- Fall asleep to soothing sounds. It only takes a minute to set up more ideal conditions for healthy, restful sleep. Sleep by Headspace* uses relaxing sounds and music to create a soothing, immersive audio experience to help you disengage from your day. While the content is usually much longer than a mini-meditation, these Sleepcasts, sleep music, and soundscapes aren’t intended to hold your attention for their full durations — quite the opposite. They’ve been created to occupy the mind just enough to take the mind off the events of the day, but not so much that it keeps you awake. It might just be the quickest way to put your mind to bed.
*available only to Headspace Plus subscribers