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Meditation has long been a way to calm and de-stress. In today's hurried society it is hard to find quiet moments and peace of mind. Meditation can focus and center you, allowing you to get in touch with your inner self, and gain needed direction.

Eastern religions and cultures have used meditation extensively for centuries. Buddhists and Hindus practice meditation as part of their doctrine, asserting that it is the only way to reach God. It differs only slightly with the Western idea of prayer. Where prayer is an active communication with a higher Being, meditation is often (but doesn't have to be) a little more passive, allowing a greater degree of introspection. People from all walks of life who practice meditation regularly say they are much better able to handle the stresses that come from everyday life, as well as make greater realizations about themselves and their desires. It is a way to get to know yourself, and find answers to life's problems.

There are virtually thousands of ways to meditate. Essentially, there is no wrong way. But there are common elements found in every type of meditation. These are as follows:

1) A quiet place. Because you are "going within," you need a place where you won't constantly be distracted or bothered by people or events. It doesn't necessarily have to be a silent place, but somewhere where you can shut the door and spend at least fifteen minutes alone.

2) A comfortable position. Most people prefer to meditate sitting up, in a comfortable chair, with both feet firmly on the floor. Sitting on a pillow or mat cross-legged is also typical. However, if you prefer to meditate lying down, or lounging, that's fine too. Make sure you will be comfortable in your position for a while. There's nothing worse than coming out of your meditation with tingling feet from cutting off blood supply!

3) A concentrated mind. Meditation, no matter what type you prefer, requires that you concentrate. That's essentially what meditation is, prolonged concentration focused inwardly.

4) Physical comfort. If you are extremely hungry, cold, hot, sore, tired or ill, you will have a difficult time getting into your meditation. When you first begin your journey into the practice of meditation, it is advisable to avoid trying to meditate when you are any or all of the above. Meditation is the process of taking your mind off the physical body, so extreme physical discomfort of any kind will make that a difficult task.

Many people like to have soothing sounds playing while they meditate, such as recordings of a tropical rain forest, trickling brook or gentle rain. Some people like to light candles or burn incense. Some have windchimes that tinkle softly and help them focus, while others play soft or soothing music. It's completely up to you. Try what you think you might like, and see how you do. Again, there is no wrong way to meditate as long as it calms you or achieves your objective.

The most typical beginner's meditation is to focus on your breath, and practice clearing your mind of the worries and emergencies of the day. As you are sitting (or lying, etc.) comfortably, close your eyes and start to focus on your breathing. Breathe in deep with your belly, not your chest. Try breathing in through your nose, exhaling through your mouth. Don't breathe so deep or fast that you become light-headed; rather, let your breathing become steady and calm. Consciously focus on making your breaths longer and longer each time. Hold your breath for a few seconds before exhaling.

Keep breathing and let your mind become clear. Don't force every thought to vanish-this only makes your mind become less focused. Don't prevent thoughts from coming into your mind, but just let them pass through rather than become fixed on any one thought.

It might help to guide your focus by imagining a soft yellow light floating all around you. It is warm and safe, and calms your mind. Allow yourself to be filled with peace as you let go of the details in your mind. Continue to breathe, and listen to the air as it fills your nose and belly and rushes out of your mouth.

Just focusing on your breath and clearing your mind of the day's worries alone will help you to become more focused and relaxed once you open your eyes. As you become more experienced, you can start to "guide" your meditation to find answers to problems or heal past hurts or really see what's motivating you.