A tried-and-true way to calm your mind, meditation is also one of the best things you can do for your body. Mounting medical evidence shows that the practice can boost the immune system, improve circulation, lower cholesterol, ease chronic pain, end insomnia, counter anxiety, relieve gastrointestinal distress and actually extend your lifespan. “Meditation is a wonderful way to reduce stress,” says Timothy McCall, M.D., author of Yoga as Medicine (Bantam). “Stress not only makes people miserable in their day-to-day lives, it also undermines their health.” The goal of most meditation practices is simple: Bring your attention to one thing in order to deepen your awareness of the present moment. For multitaskers, paying attention to just one thing can be a challenge. The trick is to find a practice style that’s right for you. If sitting and breathing is not your thing, try a simple walking meditation. If you’re not comfortable with the noise inside your head, listen to the sounds outside it. If silence is scary, repeat a mantra.
Here, we offer a guide to five beginner-friendly techniques, with advice from some of the world’s leading meditation instructors. Try each style on for size, and when you find one that fits, stick with it. “Meditation is like exercising a muscle,” says Richard Rosen, author of The Yoga of Breath (Shambhala) and a co-founder—with Rodney Yee and Clare Finn—of Piedmont Yoga in Oakland, Calif. With each workout, your practice gets stronger. Soon you’ll carry the centered awareness gained from meditation into the rest of your daily activities, making everything more satisfying. As Rosen says, “First it’s a chore, eventually it’s a pleasure.” You can sit in Lotus pose if you want to—but any comfortable cross-legged position will do. If even that’s a problem, no worries: You can just as easily be seated on a chair or sofa, lying on the floor or even standing up and walking around. Don’t get too hung up on form; the best position is the one that helps you stay focused.