I am usually wary of “life-changing” claims. But when it comes to meditation, I can confidently assert that—given regular practice—five minutes a day can change things.
It’s widely accepted now among Western medicine practitioners that meditation isn’t “woo-woo.” It has been shown, over and over, to improve our physical, mental and emotional well-being.
But people who practice it daily don’t need scientists to tell us the benefits. We keep it up because we notice the difference in ourselves—and we want to maintain that.
And while a minimum of 20 minutes is usually recommended, for those who can’t seem to find a 20 minute window for stillness, meditation isn’t something you need to rule out.
Even just a few minutes is worth doing.
Think of meditation as a mental (and emotional) fitness regime. And, similarly to getting physically fit, the fitness builds gradually.
When we meditate, lots of things are happening in our bodies and minds that we aren’t consciously aware of: we release stress; we cleanse ourselves of toxic thoughts and emotions.
But (and here’s the snag) we aren’t consciously aware of that process at the time. What we’re conscious of is focusing our attention (on our breath or maybe a mantra) followed by the intrusion of thoughts. Then we refocus our intention until we again notice the intrusion of thoughts—lather, rinse and repeat until the time is up.
That is what we do during meditation.
But while we are doing that—and although it often doesn’t feel like that at all—our bodies and minds are getting a chance to relax. And when they relax, they release suppressed sh*t that is causing us unease (and leads to the development of dis-ease).
This letting go happens in a place we call “The Gap”—the space between one thought and the next. A space our ego minds can’t perceive. A space that’s usually quite minute. But during meditation, by focusing our attention on our mantra or breath, we temporarily block out other thoughts—just for a little bit—which enables our minds to become quieter than normal. That stretches our time in the gap, imperceptibly, giving our minds and bodies that opportunity for rest, relaxation and to release what isn’t serving us well.
And we do that multiple times throughout the meditation—so the repetitive process of noticing our mind has wandered off is not a sign of failure. It’s simply a sign that we’re no longer in the gap, and it’s time to refocus our attention so we can slip back in there and get another dose of healing.
Don’t bother trying to chase that place of stillness though—your ego mind won’t find it. Just keep bringing your attention back to the present every time you notice it has wandered off. That’s the process of meditation—do that and allow your body and mind to benefit naturally.
Over time, when practiced daily, we start to notice differences.
If we’re meditating for 20 minutes twice a day, we’ll notice those benefits quicker than if we’re doing five minutes once a day. That stands to reason.
But, because the benefits are cumulative, it’s still worth doing just a few minutes if that’s all we can spare today. It helps us to build on yesterday’s practice and it increases the likelihood that we’ll keep it up, instead of abandoning the practice altogether.
As with anything, we get out of it what we put in, so ideally sit for 20 to 30 minutes if you can.
But remember that every five minutes counts.
You can steal five minutes for yourself in your car before you leave work in the evening, in the toilet mid-afternoon or right after you get the kids out the door to school before you launch into your long to-do list.
And when we take five minutes for ourselves to stop and quiet our minds, many people feel more invigorated and focused when they resume their normal activities afterward. Noticing the difference a few minutes makes has the knock-on effect of encouraging us to do it more—and even to start carving out longer periods of time for our practice.
The magic of taking five minutes for ourselves is self-care in the present and improved well-being in the future. Surely that’s worth trying out?
First published on elephantjournal.com