We know, we know. You’re too wound up to meditate. You don’t have time. It’s not your thing. But before you roll your eyes and get on with addressing those 500 holiday cards, consider this: A study published this past June in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience reported that the practice can reduce anxiety levels by up to 22 percent. Research has also suggested that meditating can actually form new and permanent neural connections in the brain. “Meditation trains your mind to focus on the moment instead of worrying about what occurred in the past or what could happen in the future,” says Janet Nima Taylor, an American Buddhist nun in Kansas City, Missouri, and the author of Meditation for Non-meditators. The amazing thing? All you need is five minutes a day. “Anyone can do it, and the more consistent you are, the easier it will become,” says Taylor, who devised the routine on this page. So take a timer, a notepad, and a pen to a quiet room with soft (but not dim) lighting. Sit up straight in a comfortable chair, remove your shoes and socks, and get started.
Minute 1: Breathe Deeply
Rest your hands on the tops of your thighs with legs hip-distance apart and feet flat on the floor. Close your eyes, or leave them open, allowing your gaze to rest, unfocused, a few feet in front of you. Taylor recommends meditating both ways (on different days or in a single session): Shutting your eyes helps you to focus on the inner workings of your body, while leaving them open strengthens your ability to stay serene amid external distractions. Observe how your feet feel on the floor; they may seem tingly, or you may sense the hardness of the wood against your toes. Now deepen your breathing (either through the nose, the mouth, or both, whichever comes naturally), inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of six.
Minute 2: Find Your Natural Pace
Stop counting and allow your breathing to fall into an easy rhythm. Pay attention to what your breaths feel like—not overly deep or too shallow—and compare that with your usual cadence. (Most people tend to take short, weak breaths throughout the day, which deprives the blood of oxygen and, in turn, can lower energy levels.) Tune in to the rising and falling sensation in your body. You should experience it from your belly to your shoulders.
Minute 3: Stay Focused
Continue to be aware of your breathing. If random thoughts (shopping lists, work deadlines) pop into your head, don’t push them out or linger on them. Instead imagine each one as a harmless floating cloud. This visualization technique helps you to acknowledge your worries without responding to them emotionally. If a thought still doesn’t drift away from your mind, jot it down on the notepad. Then turn back to your meditation.
Minute 4: Relax
Release your focus on your breathing and simply sit. Remind yourself that there’s nothing to do, fix, or change.
Minute 5: Give Thanks
Think about something that you’re grateful for, such as spending time with friends or having the chance to meditate. Then gradually transition your thoughts to how you physically feel: the relaxed state of your muscles and the steadiness of your heartbeat. Open your eyes (if you had them closed), stand up, and tackle the rest of your day—calm, cool, and collected.