A few months ago, I walked into my favorite cafe, Subia’s in downtown Jersey City, and it was as bustling as ever. People were chatting, music was playing, waitresses were bringing out orders. And in the middle of it all, owner Nilsa Rodriguez sat in silence, the picture of serenity, with her eyes closed and her lips forming a slight smile. I wanted to say hello, but I worried she might be sleeping.
“Actually, she’s meditating,” her sister, Yvonne, corrected.
Meditating? I thought. In a crowded cafe? At one in the afternoon?
Over the last few years, I’d often attempted to establish a regular meditation practice that was in line with what I’d heard and read: 20 minutes in a seated position first thing in the morning, 20 minutes last thing in the evening. But something almost always managed to come between me and my Om—think: an alarm clock that failed to go off, forcing me to rush out of the apartment for an appointment; a tipsy night on the town that left me unable to walk in a straight line, much less sit erect and cross-legged on the hard floor…
But seeing Nilsa that day made me think differently about meditation. What if I were able to take short, mind-clearing rests whenever, wherever? Also, was I being too rigid in my definition of meditation? As my friend Moby once counseled: “There isn’t a right way or right time to meditate. If you’re doing it, then you’re doing it right.”
At first, meditations of 10 minutes or less sounded a lot like fast food—quick and easy but devoid of any real nutritional benefit. However, as I’ve since learned, not only are mini meditations a good idea for busy people who could use an extra hour (or six) in their day, but in the Tibetan Buddhist Mahamudra tradition there’s actually “encouragement to engage in short practice periods, many times during the day, rather than longer periods,” says Elizabeth Reninger, author of Meditation Now, A Beginner’s Guide: 10-Minute Meditations to Restore Calm and Joy, Anytime, Anywhere.
What’s more, Reninger advises even shorter “micro-breaks,” which can be done “while sitting at your desk, simply by closing your eyes and taking three or four long, deep, gentle breaths.” Give it a try, and “feel the effect of the breath on your entire body; notice the small gaps between the inhalations and exhalations. Allow those gaps to gently expand—and see if you can get a sense of flowing into them. Such a practice requires no more than 30 to 60 seconds and can be wonderfully refreshing.”
Another option: Devote the first five or 10 minutes of your lunch hour to walking or sitting in meditation. “If there’s someplace outside—a park or courtyard—where you can walk amidst natural beauty, this is particularly excellent,” says Reninger, who, in her book, provides 18 simple meditation techniques that can be done while strolling, eating, staring into a candle flame—even while in an airport. Recalling the time a frustrating flight delay left her with many long and potentially boring hours to kill at Denver International, Reninger says, “I was tired and cranky. Then I realized I could use the time to meditate, practice yoga, read poetry, nap. I alternated short meditations with these other activities, and it turned out to be very enjoyable.”
As for me, I’ve started to see subway commutes as less of an inconvenience and more an opportunity for an intermission, a time to reset and breathe. When I’ve been sitting in front of the computer screen for too long, I’ll get up and go and stand in front of the window, close my eyes, and tune in to the sound of birds chirping and the wind rustling the leaves. And while I’m an expert at multitasking, I’m trying to re-learn how to do one thing at a time. For instance, while I’d usually eat my breakfast and lunch while reading the newspaper and toggling through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, I now make a point of sitting quietly and savoring my food.
According to Reninger, the benefits of meditation can include “reducing stress and promoting relaxation; enhancing energy and vitality; improving concentration; increasing intelligence and creative capacities; enjoying better sleep; and increasing our equanimity in the face of life’s challenges,” and, I have to say, I’ve experienced them all.
Want to see for yourself? Keep reading, as Reninger leads us through a sample 10-minute meditation below. “Make a provisional commitment—say, to practice for 10 minutes, six days out of seven, for a two-month period—and see what happens,” she says. “If you feel inspired to add a second 10-minute practice on certain days, or to extend the 10 minutes to 15 or 20 minutes, go with that.”
A 10-Minute Meditation by Elizabeth Reninger
Turn off your phone and other devices. Begin by sitting with your spine upright, either on a straight-backed chair or on a meditation cushion. (Lie down in a comfortable position, if sitting is not an option.) Say “Ahh” aloud to release tension in your face, neck, and jaw. Let this simple gesture be an invitation to let go of the various ideas, concepts, and beliefs that may be spinning in your mind.
Next, drop your attention to the lower abdomen, below the navel, feeling the energy of the deep belly. The place is known as the Hara (Japanese) or Dantian (Chinese). It’s a field of subtle energy that will help you feel grounded. Think of it as your “belly brain.” Imagine your breath arising from and dissolving back into that space of the belly brain.
Now bring your attention to the flow of breath: the inhalations and exhalations. Make no effort to change the breath in any way, just notice its rhythm and quality.
Notice how the breath feels cool at your nostrils, as it flows in, and then feels a bit warmer as it flows out.
Notice your ribcage gently expanding as the breath flows in, then gently relaxing as the breath flows out.
Notice your belly gently expanding as the breath flows in, then gently releasing as the breath flows out.
Next, begin to count the breaths, from one to 10. Inhale gently, then, as you exhale, say “one,” either out loud or silently to yourself. Then inhale again, and with the next exhale, say “two.” Continue in this fashion until you’ve reached 10.
If your mind wanders, no problem—simply begin counting again, with “one.” After you’ve counted 10 breaths without distraction, relax, and notice how you feel. Notice the aware presence that remains, even as the meditation technique is released.