When stress comes out of nowhere and you need to calm down STAT, your best bet probably isn't a round of tequila shots. There’s a cheaper, much healthier way to relax, and it is insanely effective. According to a new study in Jama Internal Medicine, mindful meditation may improve the symptoms of anxiety and depression — in the case of depression, possibly as much as antidepressants. But if you’re an “om” novice, meditation can be intimidating.
Luckily, Emily Bielagus, a yoga instructor at NYU’s The Mindfulness Project, has a meditation method so easy it makes child’s pose seem tough. “There’s no right or wrong way to meditate,” says Bielagus. “A lot of people spend the whole time thinking ‘what is supposed to be happening right now?’ That’s the point—nothing is happening, except you, quietly, in a room, breathing.”
Here are Bielagus' three steps to finding your zen. The best part: you can do them anywhere.
1. Get Comfy
Many people steer clear of meditation because the idea of sitting still for an extended period of time is really scary. "The great news is that you don't have to sit in order to meditate: you can go for a walk, lie down, spin in circles, curl up in the fetal position, sit on a toilet..." says Bielagus. The location isn't important; what's important is that you have to focus on your breath.
2. Concentrate on your breathing.
Once you're settled, slow your breathing down and concentrate on each individual inhale and exhale. "A great way to focus your attention on your breath is to do a pranyama, or breathing exercise, called Nadi Shodhan, or alternate nostril breathing," says Bielagus. "Place your right thumb over your right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril. Pause, maintaining that emptiness for a few moments. Then, breathe in from the left nostril and retain the breath for a few moments. Repeat on the other side, and then repeat the whole cycle at least nine more times."
3. Get in the zone.
Now that you know how to breathe, you're ready to sit (or walk, or lie down, or curl up) quietly for a few moments. As you close your eyes, you might feel like your brain starts acting crazy right away — zipping from your to do list to what you ate for lunch to whether you called your mom back to the dry cleaning, etc. "This is totally normal!" says Bielagus. To pull yourself back into the present moment, keep drawing your attention back to your breath: in and out. "Notice how the inhales and exhales change the shape of your lungs, your belly, your rib cage," she advises. "You can even count the seconds of your inhales and exhales—start with a four-second breath, then work your way all the way up to a ten-second breath." Another tip for staying focused is to think of a certain word while you inhale, and another word while you exhale. "Maybe these words are the names of people you love, or perhaps ideas or goals you're working toward," suggests Bielagus. Set your phone’s timer for five, ten, or however many minutes you need — there's no way you won't feel more relaxed at the end.