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The word meditation often conjures up exotic images of monks clad in yellow robes sitting for prayers or some rubber limbed yoga teacher on TV. These images may be representative of some aspects of meditation, but it is not necessary to either join a monastery or twist yourself into a pretzel to experience the benefits of meditation.

Meditation is a word that applies to a wide variety of different traditions and practices including zen, yoga and budhism. Meditation as a practice is a process of clearing the mind and does not concern thinking in any way, despite the way the word is sometimes used, as to refer to "meditating" on a problem.

Regardless of the technique or tradition studied, the objective is to focus the mind on some particular thought, or awareness and continually redirect your attention to that object whenever it should waver. For instance, one might sit and resolve to watch only the breath flow in and out through the nostrils.

The breath is a popular focal point for meditation because it is tapped into the flow of energy through the body, which is a reflection of a person's state of health and overall well being. Disturbances in the mind can be seen in the breath, and by smoothing out the breath, the mind is similarly affected.

Another popular focus for meditation is the mantra, which is any one of a large variety of phrases which is repeated over and over, either silently, or out loud. The phrase may be chosen by the meditator or passed on by a teacher or mentor. There are many mantras from a variety of traditions, but it is entirely possible to make up a mantra for oneself. A mantra is much like an affirmation. A popular one translates as "I am part of the divine."

The most important factor when using a mantra is to stick with it. The mantra works by creating a small impression in the subconscious mind every time that it is repeated. In the course of regular practice over days and weeks, the same thought over and over again takes up a bigger and bigger portion of the subconscious mind, driving out other random thoughts and creating a place of calmness and centeredness.

Meditation is a large and complex subject with many details, traditions and thousands of years of history. However, at its heart it is simple, intended to clear the mind by focusing it and experiencing whatever it is that we may find in the depths of our beings.