Despite his busy schedule as principal dancer at the Colorado Ballet, Domenico Luciano makes time to meditate. “It's part of my routine, my cross-training, my lifestyle," he says. He first began meditating in yoga class on the weekends, doing a series of breathing exercises after the last poses of class. “It made me feel calm, neutral and peaceful." Today, Luciano meditates daily for 5 to 10 minutes, sometimes while stretching, or when feeling tired or nervous, or before bed to help him fall asleep.
Meditation—which involves calming the mind and often includes breathing practices—can reduce stress, boost memory and improve mental focus. But it's hard to find time to sit still and breathe, especially when students and parents depend on your constant attention. Fortunately, you don't need an hour of quiet contemplation to benefit from the practice. Even a few moments of centered breathing can reduce daily stress and help you stay grounded amid the demands of your hectic lifestyle.
Have two minutes to spare?
Meditation can be done anytime, anywhere, for as long or as short a time as you want. It can be as simple as closing your eyes and tuning into your breath for a few seconds or repeating a mantra—a word or phrase designed to change your attitude. “It's not some kind of rocket science-y thing," says meditation expert J-Coby Wayne, co-founder of the Energy Arts Alliance, which provides guided meditation sessions on its website and works one-on-one with clients and companies all over the world.
To get started, Wayne recommends this exercise, which can help you get calm and centered, clear your mind and/or set a creative intention for class or rehearsal:
• Sit in a comfortable pose, such as cross-legged, and close your eyes.
• Listen to your breath. Try counting to four as you inhale, then hold for one count. Exhale for four, then hold one count. Notice a gentle rhythm emerging.
• As you inhale, imagine feeling centered, calm or grounded, ready to listen or full of creative energy.
• As you exhale, release stress, fatigue, exhaustion and creative blockages.
• Repeat for two to five minutes.
Deepen your practice.
Once you've tried a basic exercise, you can continue meditating for as long as you want. Try 10 minutes or half an hour, when you have time. Set a pleasant-sounding alarm so you won't keep checking your phone, or listen to a guided meditation of a set length.
Many people prefer to sit while meditating, but others stand or even move around, performing gentle yoga poses or taking a walk through the woods. Experiment to find what works for you. You can also try repeating a mantra, like “joy," “let go," “peace" or “calm," aloud or in your head to help focus your thoughts.
It's not a competition.
It can be difficult—for dancers, especially—to give up the quest for perfectionism during meditation. Many approach the practice as a way to fix something about themselves. Try to soften that self-criticism, says Wayne. “It's not that there is something wrong. [Meditation is] what we can use to build and preserve or to dissolve and release."
Additionally, it can be hard to find a quiet headspace, when your mind is full of choreography and a never-ending to-do list. Instead of pushing these thoughts away, says Wayne, try to accept and value your active, creative mind. She notes that trying to “turn off" the brain can be frustrating, leading people to quit their meditation practice. If you don't enjoy it, find ways to alter your practice, not yourself.
Domenico Luciano meditates for 5 to 10 minutes every day. Photo by Francisco Estevez Photography, courtesy of Colorado Ballet
There's no recital at the end.
If after a few weeks, meditation still doesn't feel calming, that's all right. Keep experimenting. Try taking a walk outside, moving your body or simply moving your hands during your meditation to see how it feels. If you were focusing on breath, try visualization instead, like picturing a slowly unfolding rose or a calm lake. There is no trophy for best meditation. Enjoy the journey.
Though there isn't an end goal to meditation, you may begin to notice positive changes in yourself. Luciano credits his practice with helping him let go of negative emotions and stress. “I don't enjoy feeling that way, so I try to bring myself out of it and go back to neutral," he says. “I always feel very grateful and blessed for the body I have, and for the job I do. I use meditation as a moment to be grateful for the life I have."
Try an audio meditation, app or class to guide your practice.
• Apps for smartphones: Headspace, The Mindfulness App
• Audio CD: Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—and Your Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
• Streaming: Energy Arts Alliance provides a 15-minute audio meditation on its website called “Plugging In Meditation."
• Classes: Guided meditation classes can be found at yoga studios, community centers, meditation centers or even hospitals and medical centers.