This article will teach you a basic mindful meditation exercise to help you reduce stress. It’s ideal for people who are brand new to mindfulness and have no experience with yoga, meditation, or any such practice. It takes about 15 minutes and it’s great to do at any time of day. You can use it:
- When you wake up in the morning, to clear your mind for the day ahead.
- After lunch, to reset your mind and body.
- After dinner, to wind down and prepare for sleep.
- Any time you like
Before you start, find a place that’s quiet, comfortable, and as free from distractions as possible. Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes, make sure you’re not hungry or thirsty – and don’t forget to go to the bathroom first.
How to Do It
Follow these basic steps for optimal results:
- Find a cushion, chair, bench, or stool that allows you to sit comfortably and easily, with your spine nice and long. You don’t have to sit on the floor with your legs crossed. Find a seated position with your knees even with or a little bit lower than your hips. Don’t lean forward or back.
- Shrug and then relax your shoulders. Roll your head side to side to free and relax your neck. Stretch your arms over your head and bend left and right. Basically, do anything that feels good to you in the moment. Maybe a little twist of the spine. After you’re done stretching and feel you can settle down and be still for awhile, let your hands come to a rest on your thighs with your palms facing down.
- Next, close your eyes and take several long, deep breaths. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. During these first few breaths, expand your rib cage and fill your lungs as full as possible, then let the air rush out naturally. With every inhalation, let your spine get long, and when you exhale, try to keep the length you get on the inhalation while staying relaxed. Do this for a minimum of six breaths.
- Then, let your breathing relax and shift the focus from your chest to your belly. On the inhalation, let your belly expand, and on the exhalation, let it contract. Do this until it feels smooth and easy: belly out as the breath goes in, belly in as the breath goes out. This type of breathing is known as belly breathing, and is typical in many forms of mindful meditation exercises.
- When the belly breathing feels natural, start to count on the inhalations and exhalations: inhale to a measured, steady count of four, then exhale to a measured, steady count of four. Breathe like this until you’re comfortable counting and controlling your breath. You can make them longer if you like, but a four-count should be the minimum.
- Now that you’re comfortable sitting still and controlling your breath, it’s time to get to the heart of the exercise, known as “The Ten Breaths.” The goal is to keep your mind on one thing and one thing only for ten breaths – you’ll find out what you’re focusing on in just a second. If your thoughts stray, don’t worry – simply call them back, peacefully and gently, to the breathing and the counting. Okay? It’s time to start.
- As you breathe in and out on a steady count of four—four in, four out—picture the number “1” in your mind. Make the picture unique to you. You can imagine the number drawn in black magic marker on a plain white sheet of paper; you can see it as a flashing, colorful sign; you can see it as graffiti on a concrete wall; you can see it as a piece of fine art displayed in the Louvre in Paris. The only limit is your imagination, and the only thing that really counts is that somehow, some way, you see the number “1” clearly in your mind.
- Next, do this for each number up to “10.” See the numbers in your mind in any way you like. Have fun; make yourself smile, but don’t lose track of your breathing. If your thoughts stray, don’t worry – simply call them back, peacefully and gently, to the breathing and the numbers.
- When you’re done – when you get all the way to “10,” let it all go. Stop the counting; stop the visualizing; stop controlling your breath; let everything – body, breath, and mind – return to its natural state. On your own time, let your eyes come open. Go through a brief, personal check list: how are your thoughts? Are they centered or scattered? Focused or relaxed? Move on to your body: are you tense? Is anything sore? Don’t judge your answers; simply catalog them and allow them to be.
- Finally, do a simple stretch just like you did at the beginning of the exercise when you first sat down.
Reduce Your Stress with Mindfulness
Now, that wasn’t so hard was it?
If you made it to the end, kudos to you. You’ve just learned a technique that’s scientifically proven to lower cortisol levels – meaning reduce stress – and it only took you about 10 minutes. If you found it difficult, don’t worry: you can practice. What matters is that you did it.
The truth is there are very few people who can keep their mind focused completely on their breathing for the full 10 breaths – even the most experienced meditators have to call their minds back once or twice during this exercise. If you spent the entire time calling your mind back to your breath and reminding yourself to work on seeing the numbers in your mind, then double kudos to you. You stuck to it, and you took an important first step in using mindful meditation to reduce stress.