For some novice meditators, the quest for inner peace can get a bit ... stressful. Do I "om?" Picture a white-sand beach? Breathe white light out of my nostril? Can I scratch that itch on my back before I lose my mind?
Studies show that meditation has many health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to boosting happiness. But nothing defeats the purpose like stressing out about it. So let's keep it simple.
Stephan Bodian, a California psychotherapist and author of "Meditation for Dummies," recommends mindfulness meditation as best for stress reduction. In mindfulness meditation, you let yourself be fully present in the moment by focusing on your breath.
Bodian offeredfive pointers:
BREATH Breathe naturally, without forcing anything. Notice the sensation at your nostrils, and the rise and fall of your chest and belly as you breathe. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath.
POSTURE Feel free to sit cross-legged, kneel, sit on a chair or lie down - whatever's most comfortable. The most important thing is posture: Your back should be straight but not rigid, so imagine that you're being pulled toward the sky with a string attached to the crown of your head. Try not to fidget or squirm; instead of immediately reacting to discomfort, be aware of how it affects you.
EYES and tongue Close your eyes, keep them open or leave them half open, but pick one way and stick with it throughout the meditation. To stabilize your tongue, rest it lightly on the roof of your mouth.
This Zen technique is believed to cut down on subvocalization, which is when your tongue moves slightly with the thoughts that pass through your head.
ROUTINE You're more likely to incorporate meditation into your daily routine if you have a designated time and spot for it. Pick a quiet corner in your home, and turn off electronics. Mornings are good, before you drink any coffee so you're not wired. Try not to meditate after a heavy meal or just before bed because you tend to be sleepy. Set a timer to alert you to the end of your session to frame the meditation and give it a ritualistic quality. Aim to meditate at least five days a week; there's not much benefit if you do it once a week or every now and then.
TIME Meditating 20 to 30 minutes daily is ideal, but if you only have five or 10 minutes, do it. There is no "right" way to meditate, so let go of goal orientation, and don't try to track your progress.