Meditation 101: Tips, Apps, Retreats and More You Need to Get Started

Think of meditation as medicine, but without the drugs. And the benefits? They’ll blow your mind, naturally. Find out how to get in on this trending mindfulness revolution, at home, in your neighborhood and while traveling. Meditation has been around for thousands of years, but historically dismissed as “New-Age-y.” But recently, the practice of mindfulness has become downright trendy, thanks in part to books like the New York Times bestseller 10% Happier. It’s losing its stigma, too: “It has been vetted by science so people accept it,” says Cheryl Brause, mindfulness instructor and owner of 2bpresent, a new meditation studio in Larchmont, NY. In fact, extensive research has proven it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, aids in weight loss, increases focus, boosts immunity and makes people happier. The best part is, you can spend as little as a few minutes a day doing it—and you have permission to sit down. Here’s how to get started.

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If You Have 1 Minute…

Breathe Deeply
To prep for stressful situations—and in the midst of them—try the “stop, drop, and take five breaths” method, says Gina Norman, meditation teacher and owner of Kaia Yoga in Westport, Greenwich, Old Greenwich and Darien, CT. Instead of checking your Instagram feed while waiting in line at Whole Foods, “Inhale for four breaths, and then exhale for eight breaths,” Norman says. With each breath you take, focus on elongating your exhale. “Feel the sensation of your lungs expanding like a balloon and then slowly letting the air out,” Brause says. “This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and produces a relaxation response.”

If You Have 5 Minutes…

Pay Attention to the Little Things
“Choose an everyday activity that you normally do on autopilot, but do it mindfully,” Brause says. For instance, when you have your morning coffee, drink it without any multitasking or external stimuli. Simply think about its warmth in your hands, what it looks like, how it tastes and smells and how it feels as you drink it. (Similarly, you could choose to do this while brushing your teeth, showering or having a meal). This basic attentiveness helps you develop an appreciation for everyday tasks and anchor your attention to the present—rather than a tornado of “what-ifs” and worries. As a result, you tend to be happier, Brause says.

If You Have 20 Minutes…

Connect Mind and Body
A mental body scan is a good exercise to help settle your mind, and in turn, decrease stress. To do it, Brause says, close your eyes while sitting or lying down, and breathe freely in and out. Starting at your feet, mentally “walk” from your toes to the top of your head. As you move upward, bring awareness to the sensations in each part of your body and imagine that your breath is flowing into and out of each area.

Where to Meditate
Visit these places to take a class and clear your mind.

2bpresent
Larchmont, NY, 917-626-0150, 2bpresent.com

Kaia Yoga
Greenwich, CT (also: Old Greenwich, Darien, Westport, CT), 203-532-0660, kaiayoga.com

MNDFL
New York City, 212-477-0487, mndflmeditation.com

Sabita Holistic Center
Southport, CT, 203-254-2633, sabitaholisticcenter.com

Wainwright House
Rye, NY 914-967-6080, wainwright.org

Meditation Destinations
These restoration retreats are worth the trip.

The Chopra Center for Wellbeing at the Omni LaCosta Resort & Spa
The retreat was founded by famed holistic practitioner Dr. Deepak Chopra. Carlsbad, CA, chopra.com

Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Spirit Rock is a Buddhist haven with training and classes. Woodacre, CA, spiritrock.org

Shambhala Mountain Center
This retreat in the Rockies gives over 100 programs a year. Red Feather Lakes, CO, shambhalamountain.org

Esalen Institute
The cliff-side hot springs at Esalen are renowned for healing.Big Sur, CA, esalen.org

Rolling Meadows
This center offers silent meditation and yoga. Brooks, ME, rollingmeadowsretreat.com

Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
Omega has a variety of workshops to inspire personal growth. Rhinebeck, NY, eomega.org

Kripalu
Kripalu’s R&R retreats teach mindful nutrition and stress management. Stockbridge, MA, kripalu.org

Meditation Apps to Try

Buddhify

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This app has more than 80 guided meditations for you to sample, customized to where you are and what you’re doing. buddhify.com

Headspace

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Touted as “a gym membership for your mind,” Headspace allows you to choose sessions you feel best suit your lifestyle. headspace.com

Stop, Breathe & Think

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After you check in with your emotional state, the app suggests tailored meditations. It’s great for teens too. stopbreathethink.org

Mental Workout

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For broader brain benefits, this tool helps with meditation, quitting smoking, getting better sleep and boosting social success. mentalworkout.com

Calm

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Featured in the New York Times and LifeHacker, this app offers both guided and unguided meditation sessions to train your mind. calm.com