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The Beginner's Guide to Meditation

Yes, you can find your way to meditation's storied benefits

Maybe you've tried meditating before. You close your eyes, expecting enlightenment (or at least some instant stress relief), but nothing happens. Until the next minute when you see everything you're trying to forget about for a minute flooding your mind's eye: Mail that check! Pick up more cereal! Don't forget about so-and-so's birthday!

Yes, it's a common experience. But with some professional guidance and a little determination, you can find your way to meditation's storied benefits.

Here's a beginner's guide to meditation, featuring advice from Elena Brower, a meditation teacher and author of Art of Attention. Get ready to say om.

Why is meditation so important?
Meditation helps us reduce the amount of stress in our lives by placing the body into a relaxed, healing state. Each time we sit to meditate, we are literally inviting our cells to release long-held maladaptive stress reactions that we've accumulated over time, leaving us clearer, brighter and more level-headed and adaptable. Through meditation, we can access levels of happiness that become more and more accessible over time. Meditation lowers blood pressure, improves our sleep and heightens our overall sense of contentment and steadiness, no matter our circumstances.

What's the easiest way to start making meditation a part of your day?
First, set an alarm for 20 minutes earlier in the morning (you can do it!). Brush your teeth and sit down where you prefer—sofa, chair or floor. Be comfortable. Set a timer for 20 minutes.

Close your eyes and let the show begin. At first, it will seem as though you're being bombarded—that's just your internal clearing happening. Thought after thought will likely parade by in your awareness. Watch, and keep turning your attention back to your breathing again and again. It might take a few minutes, but the thought parade will slow down, and you might even notice some space or a pause from one thought to the next.

When's the ideal time to meditate?
The ideal time is in the morning for 20 minutes and then again in the afternoon (before eating dinner) for another 20 minutes.

Do you need to sit a certain way to meditate?
Sit comfortably, on a chair, on a sofa or on the floor, if you wish. Sit upright, eyes closed. Ensure that you're not distracted by how you're sitting, so you can simply breathe and let your body enter a relaxed state.

How exactly do you meditate?
Get into a comfortable seat, close your eyes and observe. Give preference to your breathing rather than the thoughts that will inevitably appear in your mind. Keep turning your attention back to your breathing.

What can people do if they have racing thoughts or can't clear their minds?
Keep watching. That's precisely why we meditate. Notice how your breathing can at least help you turn your attention inward rather than outward.

How often or how long should beginners meditate for?
Try it daily for one week. See how it goes. Any meditation is better than none.

Are there any apps or videos you recommend to beginners?
YogaGlo.com and the Art of Attention Audio Meditation Course have nice selections on meditation.