4 easy ways to meditate at home during an anxious time like the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Buddhist teacher with over 16 years of experience teaching mindfulness

Ethan Nichtern

If you're one of the millions of people social distancing or quarantining right now, you might waiver from boredom to overwhelmed in a matter of minutes. Although you may have more down time at home, you're likely feeling anything but relaxed.

That's completely normal during this strange time, said Ethan Nichtern, a Buddhist teacher, author, and host of the podcast "The Road Home."
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"I think, for everyone, there's just this kind of invisible anxiety slash foreboding," he told Business Insider. "It doesn't feel like anyone's on vacation, you know, I haven't talked to anybody who feels that way."

So how do you feel more calm during this strange and unpredictable time?

Practicing meditation is one way to improve physical and mental health. A 2018 study by the University of Delhi showed that eight weeks of meditation and mindfulness reduced inflammation and hypertension in participants. A 2007 study published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience found that mindfulness meditation increased people's attention spans.
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It's also good for your emotional well being. A 2009 meta analysis of research on mindfulness showed that the practice can reduce stress and cortisol levels. And Harvard University research shows that mindfulness may actually change the brain of people with depression.

Meditation doesn't have to be simply sitting in silence. Here are four creative ways to meditate or be more mindful.
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1. Re-examine your priorities with a guided meditation.

1. Re-examine your priorities with a guided meditation.

Nichtern describes the time we're in now as a "gap" in reality, where people's daily routines are turned upside down.

"It's an unknown space where the kind of habitual momentum of our lives, or our minds or in this case, our entire society, is disrupted," he said.

Shifted routines, not being able to see your friends, having extra time is unnerving. But it's also a great opportunity to set intentions, or mindful goals, for yourself. They can be both small or large. Perhaps your intention is to focus on your breathe more during the day to relieve anxiety. Or maybe your intention is to start re-thinking your career.

You can meditate virtually anywhere so long as you have a laptop or smartphone, headphones, and a few extra minutes.

Lichtern has a helpful 20-minute podcast about setting intentions that you can listen to start. You could also listen to this 10-minute video about setting an intention for a particular day, or this 23-minute video on setting long-term goals and lifelong intentions. The app Insight Timer, available on iTunes and Google Play, also offers some helpful talks about intention.

2. Do the sun salutations yoga practice to calm your mind.

2. Do the sun salutations yoga practice to calm your mind.

When we're stressed, it's often hard to sit still. So instead, consider doing a more active form of mindfulness, yoga. The Buddhist teacher recommends priming yourself to be present and in tune with your breath before starting your yoga practice, and to practice in silence, if possible, to avoid distractions. If you live with others, doing yoga before your kids get up could be the ideal time.

Nichtern likes to do a practice called sun salutations, which you can practice with this popular video or this one. If you're looking for an app, yoga teacher and body positivity activist Jessamyn Stanley has an app available on iTunes and Google Play. There's also Yoga for Beginners which offers a range of guided videos, available on iTunes and Google Play.

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3. Practice mindful breathing to help process the suffering going on in the world.

3. Practice mindful breathing to help process the suffering going on in the world.

Everyone is suffering during this time. Whether it's being financially insecure, losing one's job, knowing someone who's sick, or losing a loved one, there is a lot that can make us feel hopeless, Nichtern said.

To help alleviate this, acknowledging that suffering and channeling compassion with mindful breathing, could help us feel like we're processing our grief in a healthy way.

The Buddhist teacher uses the example of hearing ambulances going by. As you inhale slowly, imagine yourself breathing in whatever feelings of suffering you imagine the people inside the ambulance are feeling, he said. As you exhale, again slowly, imagine sending healing thoughts or positive wishes to those inside.

Nichtern has a 15-minute guided compassion meditation you can listen to here. You could also use a popular guided meditation app like Headspace or Calm and look for breathing exercises.

4. If you're healthy and allowed to, go on a mindful walk.

4. If you're healthy and allowed to, go on a mindful walk.

Going on a fast walk for physical exercise is great, but if you're trying to calm your mind, take a slower walk, the Buddhist teacher recommends. (Don't forget to wear a face mask, per CDC guidelines).

"Mindfulness almost always means that you're using a particular sensory object or mental experience as the kind of home base of the present moment to return to," he said. "When you're doing a walking meditation, use your footsteps and the movements of the legs as your home base."

Walk at a comfortable pace and when your mind wanders, focus simply on your feet moving. Doing an active form of meditation is especially helpful when you're feeling anxious, he said.

"Just walk a little more slowly, return to your footsteps, and get a little fresh air."

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