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For some people, the word “meditation” conjures up images of monks or hippies seated in lotus position wearing tie-dyed clothing while fasting on mung beans and searching for enlightenment. But this is not the only path.

Although there are countless meditation techniques, it is really up to the individual. You can pick and choose among different schools of thought and find a technique that best suits your personality and lifestyle. You’re never “bad” at meditating or doing it “wrong,” it’s just a matter of finding the technique that suits you.

Learning to meditate can bring a sense of relaxation. It can also be an important tool for mindfulness and happiness. On a very basic level, practicing meditation can make us feel better and help with many stress-based conditions by calming and clearing the mind. Regular meditation practice has also been known to help improve stress-induced illnesses such as heart disease and high blood pressure.  And, for the spiritually inclined, the practice of meditation offers an awakening of your inner being, providing an enhanced awareness of your existence, purpose and connection to life.

For the novice, there are many simple techniques and postures from which to choose. The most important thing is that you do it, even if it’s only for 5 minutes. You can meditate sitting in a chair or with legs crossed, standing, walking or lying down. Again, it all depends on what is most comfortable to you.

At its core, the practice of meditation is about maintaining a focus or awareness on a single point. It can be your breath, a candle flame, nature, music, or a mantra. Some people will be able to maintain focus while most people find it difficult to block out the more than 60,000 thoughts we have a day. I have been meditating for nearly 20 years and still have some days when quieting the mind can be challenging. Many people find guided meditation, music and relaxation can help in this regard. (There is a selection of MP3s for this purpose on this site. But again, choose what works best for you.)

The intention is to remain aware of the moment, even those moments when the mind wanders to other thoughts. It’s actually less about “not thinking” and more about being aware of our thinking. When we are aware of our thoughts, we realize that we are not our thoughts and therefore will not be helpless to them. For example, when something happens that triggers an angry response, if we “catch” the angry thought within ourselves, we can detach from it and even choose a different response that serves us better than anger.

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