For many, the idea of meditation sounds both appealing and overwhelming. Being more mindful seems like it could be positive, but sitting still for a half hour or more in silence feels daunting. For some, micro meditation — mediation lasting about two minutes or less — can be a way to incorporate meditation into a busy day.
“I came across research that is suggesting that meditation as short as two minutes a couple of times a day can be beneficial,” Laura Dudley, director of the applied behavior analysis program at Northeastern University, tells TODAY.com. She adds that most research examined the effectiveness of 10 minutes of meditation compared to 30 minutes and found that “the results were pretty comparative over the two different durations.”
The experts tell TODAY.com what meditation is, how it helps people in their daily life — and how they can start to introduce micro meditation into their lives.
What is meditation?
“Meditation is a practice,” Dudley says. “We’re practicing sitting in silence or practicing paying attention to our thoughts.”
There are many ways to meditate, including loving kindness meditation, mantra meditation, body scan meditation or walking meditation. Mindfulness meditation remains one of the more common forms of it.
“I define mindfulness as paying attention to our present moment experiences with openness, curiosity and a willingness to be with that experience,” Diana Winston, the director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), tells TODAY.com. “It’s … calming ourselves, bringing our attention into the present moment into the here and now.”
The length of a meditation likely depends on the person practicing it and their goals. Some with a longstanding habit might enjoy a dayslong meditative retreat while others engage in more manageable time of about 30 to 60 minutes. There’s research that indicates that people trying to start a meditation practice remain likely to continue meditating if they start with shorter durations.
“The shorter duration meditations led to great probability that the participants would continue their meditation practice,” Dudley says.
While meditating helps people become more mindful, Winston says people can experience mindfulness at any moment. Dudley agrees that any practice works best when people can take their experience with them.
“We hope to reap the benefits off of the meditation cushion,” she says. “There’s really no point in having … a 10-minute meditation that’s just this beautiful, wonderful peaceful experience if you then move off the cushion and go about the rest of your day resentful and irritated and angry.”
What are the benefits of meditation?
People who regularly meditate experience loads of benefits, the experts say. Dudley and Winston say that the advantages can include:
- Reduced stress
- Bolstered immunity
- Lower blood pressure
- Less inflammation
- Reduced feelings of depression or anxiety
- Better sleep quality
- Improved concentration
- Lowered resting heart rate
“(Mindfulness) can boost mood. It can create more feelings of kindness and connection,” says Winston, author of “Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness.” “Mindfulness is a training in attention and that’s something that is very helpful.”
What is micro meditation?
Micro meditation is reflecting for brief periods of time often several times throughout the day. Meditating for shorter amounts of time appears to be just as positive as sitting in solace for 60 minutes at a time, the experts say.
“There’s absolutely benefits to doing it in short bursts many times a day to cultivating that quality of attention that puts us into the present moment, that calms us down, that brings ease and balance,” Winston says.
Dudley, who teaches an introduction to mindfulness class, says that she starts the students with a two-minute meditation. For some, even 120 seconds feels overwhelming.
“For students who’ve never meditated before that, two minutes feels awfully long,” she says. “We’re not accustomed to sitting still in silence without any distractions for two minutes.”
While she sometimes uses that two-minute meditation to help people build up to a 20 minute or longer meditation, she encourages people to stick with shorter meditations if that’s what works for them. She notes that Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, known as the happiest man in the world, advocates for short meditation.
“He talks about how two minutes twice per day for 30 days can lead to some really good benefits,” she says.
(Ricard’s considered the happiest man alive because he participated in brain studies where scientists scanned his brain and found that he has extremely high activity levels in the left prefrontal cortex, which is the happiness center of the brain.)
Winston teaches a micro meditation that she calls STOP:
- S: Stop
- T: Take a breath
- O: Observe
- P: Proceed
“That’s a 10-second micro meditation that I encourage my students to do all the time,” she says. “It can intercept when you’re angry, when you’re anxious, when you’re upset. It can give you a moment to come back to the present.”
She says that MARC has a free app called UCLA Mindful that can help people interested in meditation. The experts agree that incorporating micro meditation can be helpful for many.
“If you were training for a marathon you wouldn’t strap on your running shoes and go out and run 22 or 20 miles you first day. You’d warm up to it," Dudley says. "We could apply that same logic to meditation.”