While fitting an hour-long meditation session into your schedule might seem impossible, taking time out for yourself—even for mere minutes—to get in touch with your emotions is huge for your physical health and well-being. So we tapped experts from the Gaiam Meditation Studio app to share their quick tips for beating stress wherever you are. Whether you're feeling overwhelmed in a meeting, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or in a seemingly never-ending grocery store line, give these meditation techniques a whirl. (Then try this beginner's guide to get your meditation practice started.)
1. Feel Your Breath
"Stress pulls us out of our bodies and drags us into our minds where it's easy to drown in our worries," explains yoga and meditation instructor Chrissy Carter. Focusing on the breath is an effective tool because you can do it anywhere to block out the chatter in our minds, she says. All you have to do is bring your attention to each inhale and exhale. Pay attention to how your body feels as it expands with a big breath in, then how it softens with a breath out. To make the breath more tangible, place one hand on your heart and one on your belly so you can feel the breath rise and fall under your hands.
2. Intentionally Smile
It may sound too good to be true, but stopping to intentionally smile at other people will instantly help relieve built-up stress, says Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., psychologist and mindfulness expert. Plus, as you may have heard, smiling is contagious and those smiles you get back will help to inspire a natural sense of gratitude and joy.
3. Focus On Your Feet
Stress can disconnect us from what's happening right now—our minds dwell on on the past or project into the future, and it's easy to lose touch with reality, says Carter. Focusing on the feeling of your feet on the floor will literally ground you and help direct your attention to what's actually happening in the present moment. Here's how to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and balance your weight evenly in both feet. Soften your knees slightly and feel your bodyweight down through your legs and into your feet. As you root down into the floor, lengthen up through the top of your head and sense your body rebounding toward the ceiling. Relax any tension you notice, allowing your body to connect as fully as possible.
4. Experience What's Actually Happening
When you're stuck in traffic, instead of following feelings of irritation and worry, take a conscious breath, says Koshin Paley Ellison, Zen monk and co-founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. If you're driving, feel the steering wheel. Stuck in a cab? Feel your sit bones in your seat. "Where is your life happening? What happens when you don't follow your thoughts? While we don't know how things will turn out in the end, we have the possibility to pay attention to and experience what is actually happening around us," says Ellison.
5. Visualize Something Uplifting
Visualization can be a powerful tool to shift your mental gears to a space that offers perspective, clarity, and possibility, says Carter. So if you're stuck in a grueling meeting, try one of her favorites: Imagine yourself on a pool raft floating aimlessly across the water. "Just the thought of the warm sun on my face and the nowhere-to-be attitude seems to make whatever I'm going through feel more manageable," she says.
6. Scan Your Body
Since stress is often held in the body, a few times a day (set a timer on your phone if needed) pause, scan your body, and soften any areas that seem tense, says Goldstein. Start at your feet and work up your body to your ankles, lower and upper legs, hips, back (where we often hold anxiousness), shoulders, arms, abdomen, chest, neck, face (another barometer for tension and stress), and eventually your scalp. Focus on simply being aware of emotions you may be holding in your body and of any sensations—achiness, tightness, tension, or itchiness. If there is any tension, see if you can allow that to soften. "When you change the stress in your body, this helps change the stressful thoughts in your mind," explains Goldstein.
7. Notice What's P*ssing You Off
Stuck in line at Whole Foods and all you can think about is how the other 10 lanes are flying? No worries, just watch your mind and notice your irritation, explains Ellison. Now, take a moment to return to your body. "What happens when you feel your feet on the ground? Your breath soft in your belly? Notice how your mind shifts as you return to your body. Each time the agitation or stress returns, no worries. Just notice it and come back to your feet on the ground and your breath in your belly to help relieve yourself of it," he says.