5 Simple Meditation Techniques You Can Do Anywhere
Benefits of Meditation
Aside from the benefits that meditation practitioners report of feeling more calm, peaceful, and "centred", there are many proven medical and psychological benefits to meditation. Meditation is shown to:
- Reduce bias
- Increase immunity
- Improve emotional balance
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce inflammation
- Help focus and clarity of mind
And that's just a few benefits that have been documented!
Misconceptions About Meditation
Meditation and mindfulness are pretty popular concepts these days, but there are still a lot of misconceptions out there about what meditation is and what it does. For example, despite what I said in my intro blurb, meditation is not necessarily sitting around and chanting for hours (although it can be).
There are many different kinds of meditation, and each one has a different goal. Some attempt to unify body and mind, some attempt to separate a person's spirit from physical reality. Some attempt to shut out the world, some attempt to unify with the world. There are meditations with external intentions like peace or healing for someone else, and meditations intended to promote inner peace or enlightenment.
The term "empty the mind" is used a lot in reference to meditation, and I believe that is not what most meditation is about, and is something of a poor translation. "Rest the mind" or "still the mind" or even "focus the mind" might be better terms to use, as meditation almost always involves picking one thing to focus your mind on.
Meditation is also not necessarily associated with any particular religion. Many religions practice variations of meditation, from Buddhism to Christianity to Jainism. Non-religious people meditate frequently as well - it is a tool that can be used to whatever spiritual (or non-spiritual) ends you desire.
The Practice of Paying Attention
One of my favourite kinds of meditation is one I call "The Practice of Paying Attention". The title, and a lot of the ideas, came from a wonderful book called . This is a faith-specific book, but even for the non-religious it has a lot of great ideas in it. My other sources include my various yoga instructors as well as the texts and techniques in tantric meditation. An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
What I love about this practice is that it doesn't cut you off from the world around you. You don't need to shut yourself up into a quiet place, close your eyes, and pretend nothing else exists. Instead, you get to keep your eyes open and simply notice things around you that you wouldn't have noticed. Add in some basic breathing (which I'll talk about later) and you get the mental freedom and reduced stress of meditation, combined with a connection to everything around you.
The essence of this practice is, as I've said, to pay attention. You can do that in any way you like, but here are my five favourite ways to do it.
Start with the Breath
With all these techniques, you want to take a few moments to get into your breath, body, and intention before you start. Sure, you can just look around and start noticing things, but to get the full benefit a very brief transition period is necessary. Luckily it's very easy to do: just spend a few moments feeling yourself breathe.
Ideally you would follow these steps:
- Sit (or stand) straight and tall, with a long spine and shoulders directly over your hips.
- Close your eyes.
- Take 3-5 breaths and focus only on them. Feel the air come into your nose and hit the back of your throat. Observe the way your body makes room for the breath and where it sits in your body. Feel free to deepen your breath, if you like.
Depending on where you are and what you're doing you may not be able to close your eyes. Regardless, take a few moments to breath and transition your mind and body.
Practice One: Seeing the Person in the Stranger
This is especially a useful (and easy) one for city-types. The next time you're out in public, whether on a bus, in line at the grocery store, or having a morning coffee, take a look at the people around you. Now really observe them. Yes, it might be awkward if they see you, and you might rather wear sunglasses, but you'd also be surprised how few people notice you looking at them.
First just take in their form. Their skin. What they're doing, where they're looking. Do they seem tired? Rushed? Happy? How have they dressed and done their hair? Are they trying to look good for someone or wearing a uniform they have no say in? Notice the hunch in their shoulders and the confidence or insecurity in their glance across the room. How do they walk? Remember, we're not judging, but observing with curiosity all the things that add up to this person's life.
Now, instead of just looking at the outside, remind yourself that this is a human. A soul held in a casing. Where is the soul showing through the skin? What do you see that is beautiful? Where do you see a need?
Before long you might realize that this mass of bodies you were previously annoyed at having to navigate on the street is actually a stream of individual souls. Each one with their own story. Each one with a piece of you and you with a piece of them.
Bonus: consider saying a brief blessing or prayer for them while you look at them. The effect of compassion for you is beautiful, and you never know what benefit you'll provide them by doing it!
Practice Two: Being in Your Skin
This one is about you and your environment, and you can do it with your eyes open or closed. Whether you're walking down the street, waiting for the bus, or sitting in the office, take a moment and feel yourself in your skin.
To start, as always, draw your attention to your body and breath. Then to your skin. Feel the air play across your legs and moving the little hairs on your arms. The brush of your clothing against your skin - the places where it pulls and restrains and the places where it teases.
If you're in the rain, feel the wetness on your skin. If it's windy, feel it whip past you, rustling everything. if it's hot, feel those little beads of sweat as they balance on the edge of your neck before sliding down.
Realize that your skin is actually porous, not solid. Imagine your breath moving in and out through your entire body.
Be grateful and compassionate to your body. Recognize that it carries your soul and story through the world. See the beauty in every aspect of that story, and see its needs.
3) Watch a Baby or Animal
Have you ever noticed how whenever a baby enters a room, all action seems to cease and everyone can't help but just watch it as it laugh, sucks on its foot, and tries to roll over? There is something totally captivating about these little creatures. Animals too. Baby animals are pretty much conversation killers.
Why? Sure, they're cute, but I think part of the reason is because we can't help but watch these little beings that are so connected to their bodies and the moment. When a cat watched a piece of dust float through the air it is 100% connected to that piece of dust in that moment. When a baby squirms and reaches and yawns we are watching unrestrained human/body connection.
This isn't a project in trying to replicate what they have, but to allow yourself to just watch them. You'll quickly find yourself being just as drawn into the moment as they are, because their way of living is infectious.
If you get to hold one, even better. There is an amazing stillness that comes the moment a baby is passed into your arms or a cat makes its way onto your lap.
It sounds simple and silly, but some of the most peaceful moments have come at the hands of little babies and animals. Pay attention next time you are around one.
4) Follow the Path
Everything we encounter in our lives had a path to get to us. Especially if you live in a city, it's very rare to have been a part of the entire creation process of anything we use or own. So next time you are eating something, putting on an item of clothing, or flipping through a newspaper, take a moment to consider the path it took to get to you.
Take, for example, a salad. The produce you bought at a grocery store was shelved by someone working for minimum wage. Maybe a teenager at their first job, maybe a father of two or a 28 year-old who can't get a job in the field they studied in school. It was delivered to the grocery store from a farm that was probably at least a city away, driven by someone who may have been far away from their family for a long time. Before being shipped it was sorted and packaged by more people working for low wages and long hours - I worked sorting flowers once. There were about 5 of us in a small barn just off the fields. We worked surrounded by flats of flowers. Two women would move flats around and put the flowers on the conveyor belt. The rest of us would bunch and elastic them and put them on new flats, stacked to one side for pick up.
The process continues backwards seemingly indefinitely: who tended the fields, where did the seed come from? Before you know it, your one salad has passed through a handful of machines and upwards of 50-100 people before it came to you.
Think about the joys and sorrows of this journey. The animals and people that went through hardships, as well as those for whom the opportunity was a blessing. Who was greedy? Who needed more?
A quick caveat: this is not about creating guilt. Yes, a lot of the things that we have came from someone else's suffering. Yes, we should all be doing something about this. But regardless of that, it's valuable to recognize and honour the sacrifices others made so we could have what we have.
5) Just Breathe
This is the closest to the classic ideas of meditation that I'll offer, and it's simple: just breathe. You can do this in anywhere and in any way. If you're sitting, stay sitting. If you're standing or lying down, great. It is still ideal, if you can, to straighten your posture out a bit - having your body aligned helps the breath and energy flow freely. Eyes closed or open is fine. Like we did to start off our other meditations, here we just observe our breath flowing in and out of our bodies.
Now we have some options. Depending on what you need right now, you can stick with simply observing your breath, or you can work with it a bit. This is so subtle you could do it on a crowded bus and nobody would notice. Here are a few options for ways you can manipulate your breath for different meditations:
1) Deepen your breath. This is the easiest one, just imagine your breath completely filling your lungs, your belly, your torso, and then your entire body, all the way down your limbs. As if your breath is flowing in and out of your entire body.
2) Pouring breath. Imaging your breath pouring into your body, like you are pouring water into a pitcher, filling you up from the bottom to the top.
3) Top to bottom breath. Hold your stomach and breathe first just into your lungs, expanding your ribs. Then halfway through your breath release your stomach and fill that with breath too. Release all at once.
4) Alternate Nostril Breathing. This is traditionally done by blocking one nostril at a time, breathing through one nostril, then the other, but can also be practiced meditatively so that you don't have to plug your nose on the bus. Inhale and imagine the breath is entering only through the right nostril. Exhale through your left nostril. Then inhale through your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Back and forth. It doesn't matter what's actually happening with your breath - imagine its pattern through one side, then the other. This is called "nadi shodhan" breath and is very effective at reducing anxiety and stress, as well as increasing creativity.
Feel the Change
Notice how you feel different during and after your meditations. The main thing that sets these meditations aside from just looking around is that you are paying attention. Not only to the things you are looking at, but to yourself and your reactions to it. It is this focus, intention, and mindfulness that provide the benefits and connect you to yourself and the world around you.
Your mind will wander, and when it does, you just gently bring it back to the object of your focus.
That's it! Give it a try to report back in the comments on how it goes for you. Or share your favourite meditation techniques below.