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Not enough time in your schedule for a lengthy mindfulness practice? You can get started with these simple 1-minute exercises.
Beginning the practice of mindfulness can feel daunting at first, but starting small with 1-minute exercises can make mindfulness very doable.
The more regularly you practice any-length exercise, the more mindfulness will be a part of your everyday life. Then, you can reap the rewards of living more mindfully.
Mindfulness, simply put, is paying attention to the here and now.
Well-known mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness in his book “Mindfulness for Beginners” as “awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained and particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
The practice of mindfulness involves two types of meditation:
- Traditional meditation: You sit undisturbed and pay attention to your breath and body.
- Activity meditation: You focus your attention while doing daily activities like walking or washing dishes.
The short answer is yes, you can.
Think of a 1-minute mindfulness exercise like the brakes in your car. The important thing is that you stop — not so much the length of your stop. You may find yourself looking forward to putting the brakes on your high-speed life with one of these 1-minute breathers.
Research in 2019 suggests that regular meditation of a short duration can have similar health benefits as meditations of longer duration and higher intensity.
Regular daily practice seems to be more important than the length of your practice.
As you begin stopping for 1 minute a couple of times a day, you may soon find yourself expanding your practice to several times, or even 5 or 6 times, a day.
Soon, mindfulness will be a daily practice that comes naturally.
There are a number of ways you can practice mindfulness in just 1 minute.
This is a basic meditation that could become the cornerstone of your mindfulness practice. It’s easy to learn and is designed to be done in as little as 1 minute.
You can try the below version, provided by the Center for Healthy Living at Kaiser Permanente. Their PDF flyer even has pictures of steps you can print out.
- Sit up straight, but not stiffly, in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Place your hands in a balanced position and close your eyes.
- Focus on your breathing, as you follow each breath in and out.
- After 1 minute (or longer), gradually open your eyes and resume activities.
Quick tip: The sands of time
To help you keep up your 1-minute meditation practice, try keeping a 1-minute hourglass timer on your desk or your bedside table.
Anytime you see something that draws your interest, like how the light plays on the wall or the sound of a bird outside, just turn the timer upside down.
Focus on your breath along with what you see, hear, or feel for 1 minute.
You can start doing this meditation for 1 minute as you walk from the kitchen to the living room, or from your home to your car. Later, you might expand walking meditations to include part or all of a daily walk.
This version of a walking meditation comes from the Buddhist mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices.”
- As you begin walking, pay attention to each step.
- Notice how many steps you take during each inhale and exhale, and at the speed you’re walking. Pay attention to your lungs, and do not force your breathing or the number of steps you take.
- Match your steps to your breath. For example, as you breathe in, count 1-2-3 steps. As you breathe out, count 1-2-3 steps. Let your lungs and feet come to a happy equilibrium.
- As you walk, you may wish to say a phrase that approximates the rhythm of your walking. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests: “With each step, a gentle wind blows.”
The first moments of waking are a wonderful time to practice mindfulness to greet the day:
- Arrange your body in a comfortable position.
- Stretch and let your attention scan your body quickly.
- Pay attention to how each part of your body feels.
- Follow several cycles of inhales and exhales for 1 minute.
“Free-range meditation” is a term from the book “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics” by Dan Harris, Jeff Warren, and Carlye Adler. It refers to co-opting daily activities for your meditation practice.
They use the example of a shower:
- Pay attention to the action of turning faucets, standing under the spray, putting on soap.
- Feel the warm water, trying to feel each individual stream.
- Switch to cooler water for a couple of seconds, then back to warm water.
- Keep your attention on the present. If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back.
- Keep doing this for a minute to start, and you may eventually extend it to include the entire shower, and drying off as well!
You can do free-range meditation with any of your daily activities — brushing your teeth, washing dishes, drinking coffee, and even having a conversation with your spouse or friend.
This is a great exercise to do whenever you’re waiting, for example:
- on hold on the phone
- at a traffic light
- in the doctor’s office
It’s a highly structured type of breathing exercise that requires your full attention.
You breathe in specific counts, while visualizing a box:
- Inhale to the count of 4 as you visualize the top edge of a box.
- Hold your breath for a count of 4, as you go down along the right side.
- Exhale for a count of 4, moving from right to left along the bottom edge.
- Hold for another count of 4, going up along the left side, back to the top.
- Repeat for several cycles for at least 1 minute.
If you’d like to try a guided demonstration, view the video Box Breathing – 1 minute in length by Conscious Works on YouTube.
Passing through a door
This exercise comes from pediatrician Jan Chozen Bays’ book of mindfulness exercises: “How to Train a Wild Elephant.” She calls it Entering New Spaces.
It helps us learn to leave and enter rooms, cars, houses — anything with a door — mindfully.
“Before you walk through a door, pause, even for a second, and take one breath,” she writes. “Be aware of the differences you might feel in each new space you enter.”
She also advises mindful attention to how we close the door behind us before entering the new environment. “We often move immediately into a new space without finishing up with the old one, forgetting to close the door or letting it slam shut,” she points out.
A 1-minute mindfulness exercise is an opportunity to pause and reset your mind and body. It can also be your gateway to a regular mindfulness practice.
Guided meditations are often a good place to start. You might consider some of the following resources:
- Apps like Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer offer guided meditations of varying lengths.
- Online mindfulness courses are available, often for free, from Coursera.
- Plum Village, a global community of mindfulness practitioners, offers exercises to stream or download.
Want to share mindfulness with your kids?
- Edutopia has courses to introduce kids to mindfulness.
- “Just Breathe” is a poignant film by Mindful Schools that features kids describing how mindfulness helps them calm anger and upset.
- Plum Village offers the delightful story “The Firefly and the Monk” for children of all ages.