With three pandemics—social, political, medical—happening simultaneously, we all need to unplug at some point in our day and eliminate distraction, improve focus, and recover from stress and anxiety. Nice, too, that in doing so we improve our chances of an better night’s sleep and an overall refreshed feeling of zen.
Here are a few easy ways to bring a little mindfulness into your day.
Yes, it’s true — there’s an app for that. Log into Calm for guided meditation sessions, which are available in lengths of three, five, 10, 15, 20 or 25 minutes. Among the many options are "sleep stories" guaranteed to lull you to sleep, morning meditations that will ease you into the day, or nature sounds for meditation, yoga and bedtime. If you’re up for a challenge, sign on for a seven- or 21-day series for beginner or advanced yogis. And for the parents out there, Calm also features a series for kids.
The app is downloadable for free forever, or if you’re feeling committed, a Calm Premium subscription is also available for $69.99 per year after a one-week free trial.
In this exercise, Sarasota certified hypnotist and certified meditation instructor Shana Rosenthal walks us through the ease of dropping in on a moment of calm with a simple breathing technique. Here, the exhale is longer than the inhale —that will calm the nervous system, stress, anxiety and an overwhelmed mind.
“Not all breaths are created equal,” explains Rosenthal. “When your exhale is longer than your inhale, various calming impulses turn down the stress, and turn up the relaxation response.”
One particular aspect of this breathing technique is its direct impact on the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, which is calmed due to the relaxed state being dominant. “Within just a few minutes, your body naturally shifts into a state of calm and well being as your breathing and heart rate slow," Rosenthal says.
She adds that accessing this state is easy. Here are her step-by-step instructions:
Find a comfortable space to sit or recline.
Pick a count for your inhale and a count for your exhale that is a little longer. I like to begin with five counts in and seven counts out, with a four-count pause at the top of the inhale. This can be increased slowly over time to seven/four/11, if you wish.
Make a note of your emotional state. On a scale of 1-10 (0 being calm and peaceful, and 10 being intense anxiety and stress), grade the intensity of the negative feeling you are experiencing by choosing a number.
Close your eyes and being breathing through your nose.
Inhale, fully inflating your entire lungs for a count of five. Hold the breath in for a count of four.
Exhale gently through your mouth, emptying your lungs and counting out for seven. Keep your breathing even and smooth.
On your next inhale, imagine you are inhaling peaceful, calm, happy feelings or memories that elicit a positive response. Use your imagination to intensify these positive feelings and invite them in to every cell of your body.
As you exhale, blow out any uncomfortable thoughts or feelings that you have identified in your mind or body. Perhaps imagine those as a color and use your exhale to blow that color out.
Breathe this way for three to five minutes or count 10 breath cycles. You may find it useful to set a timer.
Finally, notice how much better you feel after you have finished by using the 0 – 10 scale again. Hopefully, the number will be lower than before you started.
This app has been a favorite of mine for many moons. It offers an incredible library that includes guided meditations by notables like Elizabeth Gilbert, Russell Brand and Mooji. Or you can browse the playlists for your current mood, whether it’s a desire to practice compassion, calm in turbulent times, an evening wind down, or if you are struggling to get back to sleep in the middle of the night. Lovely, too, that the Insight Timer also offers teachers of diversity. You can immerse yourself in a world of cultures, experiences, and backgrounds.
I also use this app to time my transcendental meditation sessions. I’ve customized the timer with the hypnotic Dêngzê as my starting and ending bell, along with a 20-minute duration. You can also create interval bells and ambient sounds like rainfall, om chanting and temple bells.
Speaking of my transcendental meditation practice, which I’ve been doing since 2008: If you’re ready to take your meditation to another level, this could be for you. TM, as it’s often referred to, encourages a restful state of mind. No need to focus on your breathing; what you do is learn how to effortlessly transcend, or go beyond the surface level of your awareness. A state of deep inner silence is the attainable goal. The training takes just four sessions in four consecutive days during one-on-one personalized sessions, and the technique is touted and followed by celebrities such as Hugh Jackman, Ellen DeGeneres, Cameron Diaz, Gisele Bündchen, Lykke Li, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah, Sheryl Crow, Paul McCartney, Clint Eastwood and Mick Jagger.
Maybe you’re not a celebrity follower and prefer statistics. The TM organization has conducted in-depth research with notable institutions like Harvard Medical School, Yale University School of Medicine, Stanford Medicine, and National Institutes of Health to prove evidence-based benefits for everything from insomnia to depression to PTSD to addiction to ADHD to autism. But it is also highly effective for stress and anxiety and energy and creativity.
Now, let’s talk cost. The Transcendental Meditation organization is a non-profit educational institution that offers five fee levels based on annual household income. So your fee could be anywhere from $380 to $960. To make it even more comfortable, you can break it into four payments (see more detail here). You can discuss this with your Sarasota-based instructor by going to tm.org and clicking on the orange button in the top right corner.