How to Get Instant Calm

These easy meditations can help you feel peaceful and centered in as little as one minute. BY

TAKING A BRIEF TIMEOUT — even during the most stressful day — works wonders for your state of mind. The following four quick meditations quiet your thoughts so you feel calm and grounded.

Since I've made meditation part of my daily life, I'm less likely to overreact to everyday stress, my heart doesn't race, and I'm happier. Health psychologist Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., of Boulder, Colo., the author of Inner Peace for Busy People (Hay House, 2001), confirms my experience. “Meditation introduces you to a part of yourself that is more peaceful,” she says.

Try one of these meditations today. Consult our guide on the next page to determine which one appeals to you the most. It's important to find one you'll practice consistently; you'll receive the greatest benefits if you meditate every day.

Breathing Meditation
Taking slow, deep breaths can calm your body and mind in less than a minute, no matter where you are. “Focusing on the breath gives you the opportunity to immediately change your perspective on a situation,” says Fred Miller, a yoga teacher in North Hollywood, Calif., and author of How to Calm Down (Warner Books, 2003). Breath-related meditations are also convenient and practical. “Your breath is always with you,” says Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass. “You can practice in the grocery store, in the doctor's waiting room, or in traffic, and no one will know what you're doing.”

Miller recommends a simple exercise that he calls “Three Deep Breaths.” Inhale through your nose, and then exhale through your nose. Inhale again, breathing a little deeper this time. And then breathe out, extending your exhalation so that it's longer than your inhalation. The third time, inhale even more slowly, paying close attention as your breath fills your lungs. Finally, exhale at the same pace, paying attention as your breath leaves your lungs. That's all it takes.

If you begin to think of other things during this exercise (like what to make for dinner tonight), simply bring your attention back to your breathing. Your mind is like a toddler or a puppy — although willful, it can be trained to focus through gentle and persistent effort. Repeat this practice frequently throughout the day. Take three deep breaths at the beginning of every hour, or use cues — like stopping at a red light — to remind yourself to breathe consciously.

Walking Meditation
If you're feeling agitated or restless and the thought of sitting still makes you feel worse, a 15-minute walking meditation can take the edge off your anxiety. The repetitive motion of your legs and arms helps you enter a meditative state.

To perform this meditation, first choose a place to walk, says Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., founding director of the Center for Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass. “You can walk mindfully down a corridor at work, on a hike, or while walking your dog,” he says. Begin by walking at a normal, brisk pace. After five minutes, slow your pace by about half. After five more minutes, slow your pace again by half, so that you are walking very slowly and deliberately. Focus your attention on each step that you take, concentrating on the sensation of your movements and feeling your feet connect with the earth. If you begin to think of something other than your feet or your movements, bring your attention back. “What's important is to remind yourself to be in this moment, taking each step as it comes,” Kabat-Zinn says.

Praying Meditation
If you want a way to comfort yourself in times of stress and anxiety, this meditation can help. Start by selecting a prayer to repeat. “It's important to find one that's meaningful for you,” Miller says. “The first place to look is the religion of your youth or of your ancestors, as long as it doesn't bring up feelings of anxiety or tension.” Many people find comfort in reciting the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Or choose a simple word or phrase that you find sacred, like “peace,” “shalom,” “great spirit,” or “om.” If prayer in any form makes you uncomfortable, Miller suggests choosing a poem that has deep meaning for you. If you opt for a poem or prayer, write it down and read it until you have it memorized.

Spend at least five minutes every day reciting the prayer, poem, or word over and over to yourself. If you begin to think of something else, return your attention to the word or words. You can practice this meditation anytime, anywhere, but it's especially helpful at times when you feel worried or afraid.

Sitting Meditation
This meditation suits you if you have a vivid imagination and often daydream. It requires you to recall what Borysenko, the psychologist, calls “holy moments”: moments of feeling peaceful, whole, and happy to be alive, when you are completely present and not worrying about the past or future. Your holy moments might include witnessing a spectacular sunset, listening to a beautiful symphony, or spending time with a loved one.

To practice, sit quietly and close your eyes. Take several deep breaths. Recall one of your holy moments, and use all your senses to recreate the details. Visualize the setting, see the colors, and remember any fragrances, sounds, or physical sensations that were part of the moment. As you reflect, notice the feelings of well-being that accompany the memory. Stay with the image for a minute or two, and then gradually let it fade.

Practice this meditation daily for five minutes or longer to grow accustomed to calling up those feelings of well-being. Then, anytime you notice that you feel stressed or distracted, take a deep breath and recall the peaceful feelings.

Getting Started
Which Meditation Suits You?
Meditation Best Minutes
Type Suited for Needed
Breathing meditation People with 1 to 2
no time
to spare
Walking Fidgety 15
meditation folks
Praying Spiritual 5
meditation seekers
Sitting People with 5
meditation good
imaginations
PHOTO (COLOR): To find out which meditation will calm you the quickest, turn the page.

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By Laurel Vukovic, is an herbalist in Ashland, Ore., and a regular contributor to Natural Health. She's the author of The Journal of Desire (Prentice Hall, 2001).

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