How to Meditate
Longtime devotees will spend 20 to 45 minutes each day in meditation. However, shorter is better at first, says Dan Howard, Spiritual Awareness Coordinator at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts, who recommends starting out with 5- or 10-minute sessions and building up to 30-minute or longer periods over time. The best way to learn is with a teacher in a class setting or one-on-one. If that's not possible, a tape or CD (see recommendations on next page) is a good substitute. These basics will help you get started on your own:
1. Find a quiet spot that's free from distractions. Sit on a cushion or a chair, or lie down if sitting for that length of time is uncomfortable. Just be sure to maintain a straight spine.
2. Choose a focal point. An object to gaze softly upon (a picture of a loved one, an icon, a flower), your breath, a soothing mental image such as a waterfall, or a mantra -- a repeated phrase like "love" or "om." If you are not gazing at something, close your eyes.
3. Gently allow yourself to bring your full attention to your focal point. Your mind will naturally drift, thinking about what you must accomplish that day, a dream you had the night before, and so on. Don't be upset with yourself when you become distracted. Simply acknowledge the thought without judgment and try to return to your focal point.
This process is deceptively simple. It may feel uncomfortable and pointless at first. The mind is so conditioned to jump from thought to thought that training it to deliberately rest upon one image is a tall order. But the results can be huge: Regular meditation has proven psychological and physical benefits. And the more you engage in a formal practice, the more benefits you'll reap when you're off the meditation cushion. "Meditation centers you, and the more time you spend in meditation, the more balanced you'll feel when you're not meditating," says Drozda.