Many people are confused about what meditation actually means, and to be sure, there are many different styles of meditation depending on where you have learned how to do it. Most spiritual philosophies include some type of meditation, but meditation is not a religious pursuit; it is simply a way to quiet the mind.

Common sayings such as "I'll meditate on that" might lead you to believe that meditation is focusing on something. Although traditions differ, focusing on a single thing, such as a sound or picture, is more correctly called "concentration." Not that it isn't a useful exercise; better concentration skills can help you in school, at work and when you're involved in hobbies or games. Regular practice of concentration also helps when it comes time to meditate, because it helps to reduce the mental clutter that gets in the way of true meditation.

Many prominent teachers have spoken about the benefits of meditation. In her book "The American Yoga Association Beginner's Manual," author Alice Christensen says: "Meditation helps you quiet mental conversation with yourself as well as the emotional issues that constantly crowd your mind." Meditation also has a medical benefit. Many doctors prescribe meditation practice for patients with high blood pressure, anxiety, or chronic pain.

In order to begin meditating, you don't need any special clothing or equipment. You do need a space where you can be alone for a while; 20 minutes is a good starting point. If you get restless before the 20 minutes is up, don't fight it; get up and do something else, then try again some other time. Meditation cannot be forced.

Music is not compatible with a good meditation session. Music can help calm you, but when it's time to meditate, turn the music off. Close the door so pets can't disturb you, and tell others in your family that you need this time to be by yourself. it's important to be in a comfortable position when you meditate. Don't force yourself into a cross-legged position if it isn't comfortable. Sitting in a straight chair is fine, as is lying down on the floor. If you lie down to meditate, avoid using a pillow; it's important to keep your spine straight. Keep warm but not too hot; in cold weather, throw a shawl or sweater around you and wear socks but not shoes. Let your hands rest in your lap or, if you're lying down, on the floor next to you.

Start your meditation session with a few deep breaths. Breathe in slowly through your nose, filling your lungs from the bottom all the way up to the top. Then breathe out slowly, also through your nose, emptying your lungs from top to bottom. Try to breathe in and out for approximately the same length of time. After a few breaths, let your breathing relax into a normal rhythm.

Now take a few minutes to relax your entire body, starting with your face. Bring your attention to your forehead and think of a bright light there. Use this light to relax all of your muscles. Imagine your eyes becoming loose and relaxed (keep them closed). Relax all the muscles in your face. Do the same with your shoulders, arms, hands, stomach, legs and feet. Then move your attention back up your body to your forehead. Take your time with this in order to relax your body completely.

When you feel completely relaxed, gently turn your attention toward ― nothing! Imagine a blank screen, an open sky, or anything else like that if it helps. The idea in meditation is to think nothing. Let your mind settle in silence. Eventually you will notice your attention wandering to your to-do list, or problems at home or work, or other things. This is completely normal, so don't beat yourself up about it. When you notice this, gently bring your attention back to silence. Even if you succeed only for a few seconds or minutes at a time, eventually you will notice longer and longer periods of time when you can sustain this "no thought."

After your meditation period, take a deep breath, stretch, and go about your day refreshed.