Most nights, before bed, 44-year-old New Yorker Robin Simmonds spends10 to 30 minutes sitting  in her living room, focusing on herbreath. “When I started taking Sustiva,” she says, “it made me panickyand gave me weird dreams. Meditating helps remind me there’s nothing tobe afraid of.”

Simmonds, a yoga instructor who leads classesfor people with HIV,  discovered meditation in the late-’90s whilein recovery (HIV had sent her life into a tailspin). The practice hashelped her fight opportunistic infections and depression. Ann Webster,PhD, a health psychologist at Boston’s Mind/Body Institute (, says meditating can also reduce insomnia, hypertensionand neuropathy pain and boost the immune system, largely by reducingstress. When stressed, the body releases hormones that interfere withthe production of illness-fighting agents, like CD4s. “That’s whypeople who push themselves too hard get colds,” says Webster. Simmondsadds that meditating can even make you a better patient. “It quiets mymind, so I can discern better what I’m feeling physically—that empowersme.”

Best known as a Zen Buddhist tradition, meditation offersinfinitely varied approaches. (Zen Buddhists generally sit andconcentrate on their breath—or, for example, repeat a mantra, like“Om.”) And while meditation is an inner journey, it doesn’t have to bea solo flight. Simmonds teaches yoga at a yearly retreat for HIVers ata Japanese monastery in the Catskill mountains, where participants canjoin monks in daily meditations (healingandwellnessretreat@;212.399.7125). Longtime survivor John Lynch, 42, who helps coordinatethe Catskill event, says meditating “helped me embrace living withHIV.” Despite a heavy med regimen, he’s in good health. “Meditating canhave a deeper healing than just taking a pill,” he says. Om to that.

A Sample Meditation

1    Find aquiet place where you won’t be interrupted. If it helps you focus,light a candle or put on some soothing music.

2   Set a timer for 15 minutes, then sit in a straight-backed chair. Letyour hands lie in your lap, and keep your eyes open.

  Breathing through your nose, concentrate on the sensation of eachinhalation and exhalation. Your breaths may slow—or not!

4   Losing focus? Count your breaths—but return to zero if your mindwanders. Or just notice your thoughts—then refocus on breathing.

5   Need to scratch an itch? Adjust a buttock? Don’t freak. Do what youneed to do, then get back to that breath till your 15 minutes are up.