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But there’s hope. According to internal medicine specialist Roxanne Sukol, MD, MS, you can practice meditation and mindfulness, finding even just a brief oasis to help recenter yourself in as little as one minute each day.
It takes patience and a dedication to practicing every day, but it’s doable. We talked to Dr. Sukol for tips on practicing mindfulness and meditation in a busy world.
The importance of mindfulness
“Making time is the difficult piece of all this,” says Dr. Sukol. “How are you going to do it with your kids bouncing off the walls? What does 10 or 15 minutes even mean for people who are busy all day and night? Even 10 minutes seems like a big investment.”
Dr. Sukol compares mindfulness to the balance of a car’s gas and brake pedals. “I like to think we’re strengthening the brake pedals in our bodies. Our nervous system has a gas pedal and a brake pedal and we need both to drive safely. But we live in a society that has everyone pressing their gas pedal to the ground all the time. Even though you don’t get your best mileage with your engine racing, we still do that.”
“It’s part of the value system of our country, part of our culture,” she says. “We are getting to an edge now where we are seeing this doesn’t take us somewhere good. We’re starting to see what the downside is of continuing to act like that.”
But it’s possible to find time and space to start doing meditation and being mindful of your own calm, Dr. Sukol says, even if you have to start with just a few seconds at a time. Because that’s exactly what she did.
Practice makes progress
Dr. Sukol began doing one minute meditation exercises after learning about them from a friend who taught the practice in a law class. “You find one spot so you can do it in the same time and place every day,” she says. “It could be your bed when you wake up in the morning or your couch. For me, it was in my car when I pulled into work each morning.”
The routine was simple. “I would breathe in for five seconds and then breathe out for five seconds as a warm up,” she says. “Then I repeated the cycle five times.”
It’s important to remember that it will take time to build up to even a full minute. At first, Dr. Sukol says, nothing happened. “My mind was going in a million different directions all time. But the goal is not to clear your mind as that turns out to be a physiologic impossibility. The goal is to return to the breath every time you discover you’ve become distracted.”
While that may seem challenging at first, it’s all part of the process. “There are certain values that I teach patients,” she says. “First, practice makes progress. And, then, perfection is the enemy of progress. We have this idea that practice makes perfect, but that’s antithetical to real progress.”
“It took a full year before I had one full inhalation and full exhalation without being distracted,” Dr. Sukol notes.
But, over time, she says, the meditation started getting longer. While she no longer meditates in her car at work, she still sees success by sticking with it. “Now I probably do 10 to 15 minutes every morning. It is a long way from where I started years ago.”
Ways to be mindful
There are other ways to be mindful and meditate, even if for very short durations of time, whenever our day gives us a chance. Just remember: be patient and make it a regular part of your routine.
Apps are an easy, accessible way to get into the groove with meditation, even if for only a few moments at a time. Dr. Sukol name-checks several popular apps like Insight Timer and Headspace.
“Insight Timer is incredibly flexible. If you have a minute, that’s fine. And if you have 45 minutes, that’s fine, too,” she says. She also notes that Headspace has a short option, too, that offers sessions as short as one minute.
If you feel so frustrated or angry that you simply don’t know what to do next, Dr. Sukol suggests telling yourself to stand still or even sit down to be still for a few moments. “It’s a mindful way to approach things when your body is feeling out of control. I think that would help us all, especially right now because there’s a lot of feeling out of control,” she says.
End of the day reflections
Other mindfulness options include taking a quick scan of the day before bed. “Some people find it effective to do a quick run-through of their day, like a film, before they fall asleep at night. It can be calming and serve to solidify the memories of the day, taking their mind off thoughts that are concerning, and moving them to something a bit more focused.”
Grateful meditation is one more idea that Dr. Sukol recommends at the end of the day. “Think of three things you’re grateful for each day. There’s strong evidence that the feeling of gratitude expands into other aspects of our lives, changing the way we process information and improving our mental health.”