Picture this: Your gym teacher announces you’re going to practice meditating. Soon you’re sitting on the floor with your eyes closed, trying to clear your mind, but instead, your brain is racing with a million thoughts—what’s for lunch, how you did on your algebra test, the fact that your crush is sitting next to you. And is that your nose starting to itch? Do you feel relaxed? No. You feel silly, self-conscious, and restless.
In other words, as sophomore Carrie Tananbaum says, “Meditation is really stressful.”
Here’s the thing: Carrie’s right. Meditation—aka the practice of sitting quietly and focusing your mind—can be stressful. And boring. It’s hard to sit still and be alone with your thoughts, especially if you’re used to constant entertainment and distraction. But your gym teacher is also right: You should try it anyway. That’s because regular periods of meditation can increase activity in your hippocampus, the part of your brain that helps regulate your emotions, while reducing activity in your amygdala—the section that triggers fear, stress, and anxiety.
Meditation can also help you focus right away—say, when you’re cramming for a test. Taking a break for a few moments to reset your brain while you’re studying can improve your memory, so you retain more of what you learn. And over time, meditation can train your brain to be less reactive, so you can make good decisions and manage frustrating situations, says psychologist Jennifer Guttman, who uses meditation with many of her teen clients.
All it takes is an open mind (and maybe a comfy seat), and you can be meditating in no time. (For a step-by-step guide, see “How to Meditate.”) To get you started, we asked some experts—including teen meditators—to bust some myths about what meditation is and how to do it. (Spoiler alert: There is no one right way.) So read on, and get ready to get your calm on.