Maybe you think it’s too woo-woo, too time-sucky, too Boomer. Or maybe you’ve tried meditating but couldn’t stop your racing thoughts and felt like I’m doing it wrong.
Guess what? It doesn’t have to be woo-woo, it can be done in 10 minutes a day, and you’re not doing it wrong. “The first thing is to understand what meditation is fundamentally. All we’re doing is teaching ourselves how to relax,” says Angela Gala, co-founder and executive director of Youth Meditation, a nonprofit in Charlotte, NC, who teaches mindfulness meditation to high schoolers like you. “That’s all it is.”
Okay, wait: Despite what Google loves to preach, you’re saying meditation doesn’t mean reaching some Zen, no-thought state? Nope. In fact, “no one can quiet their mind,” explains Gala. “Your brain is put into your body to think—it’s its biological job. If you stop that, then you’re dead.”
She continues: “If you sit for 10 minutes and your mind keeps turning on a hamster wheel, that’s ok—but if you don’t allow yourself that time, it will continue to spin.”
Here’s a newsflash: You don’t even have to try to get to a blank-mind state, because the goal of true meditation is no goal. “When you have a goal, you’re always searching and seeking to get to this thing,” says Gala. “There’s no goal or end in sight, but you get what you need anyway.”
Now, meditating once or twice won’t do much other than loosen tense muscles for a bit. It’s why meditation is called a practice. Think of it like going to the gym: Consistency is key. “Ten minutes a day for a month, you’ll see results,” says Gala. “Twice a week? Eh.”
In our always-on, right-now world, it’s hard to commit to a month—we get it. Even Gala herself was a skeptic when she first started meditating. “It seemed like a complete waste because all I did was my to-do list in my head. But over a few weeks, I started to notice I was different,” she says.
“I was happier and less reactive, and I was like, wait, how’d that happen? It seemed too simple that it could be the meditation, so I stopped.” That’s when her old patterns returned—and she became a convert.
“It’s less about what’s happening in that particular moment and more about how it happens over time,” says Gala. The practice helps you tune into your intuition, or what Gala calls “our connection to ourselves.” When you’re connected, she says, you’re clear and peaceful.
And, likely, a lot of other good things: Meditation may change your brain in a (good!) way that improves your overall health, according to the National Institutes of Health. More specifically, some researchers have found that meditation can help with anxiety, depression, and sleep issues.
It might also help teens with ADHD stay more focused and do better on tests. Per a study in the Journal of Attention Disorders (you want to know this stuff is legit, right?), 30% of adolescents who practiced meditation reported a more than 30% reduction in ADHD symptoms.
Have we convinced you yet? 😹
But before Gala takes GLU through the four easy steps, she explains that mindfulness meditation unwinds the mind by first calming the body, because changing your physical state (by slowing down your heart rate and deepening your breath) is easier than altering your mental one. “When the body starts to relax, it tells the mind, it’s ok, we can relax,” she says. Okay, here goes… Let’s do it together—10 minutes to a more chill you.
Step 1: Sit anywhere you want—in a chair with your feet on the floor, or cross-legged on your bed, if that’s where you feel most comfortable—with your back up. You can put your hands on your legs, clasp them together, or hold them in the classic index-finger-and-thumb position.
Why? “Your body is made up of circuitry, which is the nervous system, and we’re grounding that energy to ourselves,” says Gala. Plus, “oxygen flows better when the back is straight.”
Step 2: Set your phone timer for 10 minutes, then close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose–from your diaphragm (deep within your abs), not your chest—and hold for a count of three; breathe out through your mouth and hold for a count of three. Repeat this process eight times.
Why? Different breathing patterns work for different purposes; for example, a sleeping meditation involves only nose breathing. This combo of nose and mouth breathing “gives us energy while relaxing the central nervous system,” says Gala. As for the diaphragm breathing, Gala explains that inhaling through the chest creates shallow breaths, which “can cause more anxiety.”
Step 3: Say aloud to yourself, twice, “relax my body and mind.” Then, slowly, say the word “relax” three times.
Why? This is a basic mantra, a repeated word or phrase to help you stay in the moment.
At first, you’ll probably feel weird talking out loud to yourself (only soap opera characters do that #lol), but it’ll become more natural soon.
Step 4: Spend the rest of your 10 minutes breathing regularly, remaining in the same position with your eyes closed. Don’t be bothered by any thoughts you have. Let them come in and go out.
Why? Remember, all you need to do is be aware of what your mind is doing. “The more you try and stop thinking of things and push these thoughts away, the stronger they become,” says Gala.
Need help getting started? For newbies, Gala recommends the app Headspace, where they’ll talk you through each step. However, you’ll eventually want to meditate yourself. “The goal of mindfulness is to listen to your own voice,” Gala says. “You can’t do that with someone else’s voice.”
Check out our GLU How-to Meditation Guide