How to Do a Quick 5-Minute Meditation
Short on time? No problem. A five-minute meditation can help you reap similar benefits as longer practices. Here's how to do it.
Meditation for beginners
Even if you’re not into daily meditation, chances are you know someone who is.
At least one in three Americans has a regular practice, according to a 2020 Morning Consult survey.
The survey was taken pre-pandemic, when millions of people downloaded meditation apps to cope with Covid-19-induced stress and anxiety. The number of Americans practicing meditation is probably higher today.
But what’s stopping the other two-thirds of Americans from practicing? Not enough time, according to 27 percent of people surveyed in 2019 by Mellowed, a mental health and wellness site. Another 33 percent said they didn’t really know how to meditate.
If those are your reasons for avoiding meditation, you’re in luck.
And lack of time isn’t an excuse either. Amazingly, even five minutes can do wonders for your body, brain, and soul.
We talked to meditation pros to find out the benefits of a five-minute meditation, how to do it, and some simple yet calming meditations to try.
What is meditation?
You might focus on your breath or a word, scan your body, or observe what’s going on around you.
Let’s get one thing straight: meditation isn’t about stopping your thoughts entirely. Your mind will wander as you meditate.
The goal of meditation is to notice when you get distracted and then gently redirect your mind back to whatever you had been focusing on—your breath, say, or birds singing.
Sometimes it can help to start by practicing a five-minute guided meditation, in which a guide—either in person, on a video or recording, or via an app—takes you through the steps.
The benefits of meditation
Becoming more in tune with the present has many science-backed benefits.
And in a cool twist, it can beef up the parts of the brain that play a role in memory, attention, and decision-making. In fact, it may be beneficial for people with ADHD.
So how long should you meditate? You might be surprised to learn that longer isn’t necessarily better. The sweet spot may be anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes, according to researchers. Some studies have looked at five-minute practices.
A small study published in the Journal of American College Health in 2020 looked at meditation’s effect on college students and found that five to 12 minutes a day reduced stress and anxiety.
An earlier study, published in the Journal of Psychology & Clinical Psychiatry, found that mental health care pros who meditated for five minutes a day lowered their stress levels. They also reported feeling less angry and overwhelmed and better able to cope.
(See fast ways to calm down after getting mad.)
Ekaterina Goncharova/Getty Images
What a five-minute meditation practice can do for you
It’ll get you started
There’s no drawback to whatever time you spend meditating, whether it’s one minute or one hour, says Tatyana Souza, a meditation and yoga teacher and the owner of Coolidge Yoga in Brookline, Massachusetts.
“Any time you take is great,” she says. “The best thing is to start.”
It gets you in the meditation groove
“Five minutes—even two minutes or three minutes—is a great way to begin to build that habit, especially if you’re wanting to make a daily habit,” says Chel Hamilton, creator and host of the podcast “Meditation Minis.”
And even a short bout of mindfulness can help.
“It’s like brushing your teeth,” Hamilton says. “Thirty seconds of brushing your teeth is better than no seconds of brushing your teeth.”
The key is consistency.
“It is far better to practice five minutes every day rather than for an hour once a week,” says Meryl Arnett, a meditation teacher based in Atlanta and head of meditation for the meditation app Shoreline. “Even just five minutes is enough time to land in the present moment, to establish how you are feeling and how you would like to move forward with your day.”
Just remember that you can define what consistency means to you, notes Arnett. Maybe it’s a five-minute practice three times a week.
“Gradually, you can grow both the number of days and the duration of your practice as it feels right for you,” she adds.
It may lead to longer meditation sessions
“In my own experience, five minutes on a consistent basis quickly turns to 10 minutes and even 20. Because the truth is, meditating is such a lovely luxury in our otherwise busy days,” says Arnett, who’s also the host of the podcast “Mindful Minute.”
“What most people notice after a while of doing five minutes is they wish they could be there longer,” she says. “So you’ll kind of feel this natural pull, like, ‘Oh, I feel so peaceful. Can’t I stay here a little bit longer?’ And then that feeling of peace will you reprioritize your day, so you’re like, ‘You know what? I think I can carve out 10 minutes,’ and then 15.”
But it’s totally fine if you want to stick with five minutes for many, many months.
That’s what happened to Nikki Gingrich, a meditation and mindfulness coach in Allentown, Pennsylvania, when she started meditating.
“That’s all I could give myself,” she says.
And that’s perfectly OK.
“At the very least, you’re taking a moment to stop and reset your day, which is a very, very powerful tool,” says Hamilton.
It sets you up to be more mindful all day
Even short practices done daily can begin to rewire the brain so you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions—and know when you need to take a few breaths throughout the day to get back to feeling calmer.
“Once you go someplace in yourself, it’s easier to get back and reengage your relaxation response—and get back there more quickly,” says Hamilton. “So just because it’s five minutes once doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not stepping back into that moment throughout your day.”
What a five-minute meditation cannot do
It may not be enough if you’re really wired
“In general, it tends to take about 10 minutes for a stimulated mind to quiet down,” says Arnett. “So if you are feeling really anxious or overwhelmed, you will likely feel more benefit if you sit for 10 to 20 minutes rather than just five.”
These longer bouts give your mind a greater chance to settle and find calm.
It’s not enough time for every type of meditation
Most meditations can be tweaked into five-minute practices, including mindfulness meditation, loving kindness, and a body scan.
But guided relaxations and visualizations—where you imagine a place you want to be in the future or a place you feel most calm—need more than five minutes, Arnett says.
Bone up on the different types of meditation to find the right one for you.
How to do a five-minute meditation practice
First off, there’s no right or wrong—or good or bad, says Hamilton.
“It’s just doing and exploring and experiencing for yourself because my experience is going to be different than somebody else’s experience,” she says.
That means a five-minute meditation can be anything that resonates with you.
“Focused attention is beautiful. Walking meditations are beautiful. Breathing techniques are beautiful. Mindfulness, loving kindness—all of these things are very powerful,” Hamilton says.
That said, if you are brand-new to meditation and need help, try a five-minute guided meditation, Hamilton suggests. That way someone can walk you through different types of practice (like loving kindness or mindful breathing).
Guided meditations can introduce you to other techniques until you find something that you really like.
Souza recommends apps with five-minute guided meditations, like Insight Timer, for people who are new to the practice. You can filter these meditations by time, and many of them are free.
But if you want to start right away, here are some five-minute meditations you can try.
Focus on your breath
“The simplest meditation is to simply label your breath,” says Souza.
Every time you inhale, label the action and say it silently: “breathing in.” Do the same every time you exhale, saying “breathing out” in your mind.
That will focus your attention until your mind wanders. And it will wander. Just rein it in (more on how below), refocus on your breathing, and continue until your five minutes are up.
(Here’s how to breathe better.)
Wake up your senses
Arnett recommends this simple but effective meditation, which helps you tap into your surroundings and be more present in the moment.
Sit down wherever you are—your sofa, office chair, or even outside. Close your eyes and spend five minutes waking up each of your senses.
- What do you see even with your eyes closed?
- What do you hear?
- What do you smell?
- What do you taste?
- What do you feel?
“When our senses are fully awake and functioning, we are fully in the present moment,” Arnett explains.
Have your coffee and meditate too. This twist on waking your senses uses your morning cup of java (or your drink of choice) as a prop.
Arnett does this meditation most mornings. “I pour my cup of coffee and sit in my favorite chair,” she says.
The morning meditation goes something like this:
- Take a comfortable seat and hold your mug in both hands.
- Breathe in deeply through the nose and then release it with a sigh out your mouth.
- Gaze at the mug in your hands. Notice the color and shape of your mug, and the color of the liquid inside.
- Rub your fingers over the mug, feeling the texture and noticing how warm it is. See if you feel the warmth go through your palms and up your forearms. Notice how far that warmth travels through your body.
- Raise the mug towards you and breathe in deeply, taking in the smell of coffee. See how far you can breathe in the smell.
- Slowly take a small sip and hold it in your mouth for just a second, noticing the taste, texture, and temperature. Swallow the sip, and see how far the taste and warmth travel inside your body.
- To end the practice, take another deep breath in through the nose and release it with a sigh out of your mouth. Acknowledge this moment with gratitude and go on with your day.
“Gratitude practices can take you from feeling pretty crappy to feeling good and being able to look at the world with a different perspective,” says Gingrich.
“You can do a gratitude meditation where you’re saying, ‘I’m so thankful for…’ [and] ‘I’m grateful for…’ as you run through all of those things,” she says. “It allows your body to really feel that gratitude and feel that love, which shifts your emotions and shifts how you feel.”
How to focus as you meditate
Whether you meditate for an hour, five minutes, or 30 seconds, you will get distracted.
“Your brain will wander and try to take flight, which is part of the process. That’s what it’s supposed to do,” says Souza. “And every time you notice it, you are just watching that process and just coming back to paying attention.”
Meditation pros call the act of noticing your wandering mind acknowledging or observing your thoughts and emotions. And you are supposed to do it without judgment.
“I find it most powerful when we acknowledge a thought or feeling with a little love, a little sense of humor, and a little neutrality,” Hamilton explains.
For example, when she gets distracted, she says to herself, “Isn’t that interesting?”
“That’s probably my favorite line: ‘Isn’t that interesting?’ And just breathe and let it be,” she says. “Typically, if you don’t fight a feeling, if you just acknowledge and be with it, studies show it usually passes in less than two minutes.”
Now that you’ve got the basics down, start a five-minute meditation practice. And check out these meditation quotes to keep you grounded.
- Meryl Arnett, meditation teacher and head of meditation for Shoreline meditation app, Atlanta
- Nikki Gingrich, meditation and mindfulness coach, Allentown, Pennsylvania
- Chel Hamilton, host of the podcast "Meditation Minis"
- Tatyana Souza, yoga and meditation teacher, Brookline, Massachusetts
- Mellowed: "Meditation Statistics: How and Why People Meditated in 2020."
- Journal of Psychology & Clinical Psychiatry: "Effects of Five-Minute Mindfulness Meditation on Mental Health Care Professionals."
- Journal of American College Health: Effects of guided mindfulness meditation on anxiety and stress in a pre-healthcare college student population: a pilot study