Meditation is a commonly used word but, most often, it is often used incorrectly. Meditation is a state of being in the same way that sleep is a sense of being.
One cannot practise meditation any more than one can practise sleeping - one is either in a state of sleep or one is not as any insomniac knows. When a person sits down to practise meditation, he is really practising concentration. He engages in the continuous activity of directing the mind to a single point of focus. By drawing the attention to one point in a gentle, persistent way, the mind may become empty of thoughts and the person may drop into a state of meditation.
This practice requires a conscious effort to refocus the attention whenever the mind has wandered. It is not unusual for beginners to become frustrated by the process, assuming that everybody has amenable, cooperative minds which are willing to be silent upon request. For the sake of accuracy, some teachers refer to meditation as "sitting" in the sense of "I sit for an hour each day". Saying "I sit" instead of "I meditate" may relieve expectations of accomplishment which could interfere with the process. Regular practice acts to reinforce the goal and helps bring about a readiness for stillness, which is the fertile soil for the state of meditation.
The history of meditation coincides with the development of mentation in human evolution. The awareness of consciousness allowed human beings to learn how to control thoughts, breath and the physical body - to experience unalloyed Truth, know the Clear Light, what IS, etc.
Meditation is natural, easy to learn and safe. Its benefits are chronicled in all of world's great spiritual traditions, and examples of meditation techniques can be found cross-culturally. In the literature of the yoga tradition, much detail is provided for instruction and inspiration in meditation. Varities of meditative practices exist in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and Islam.
Sometimes it is helpful to engage one of the senses in the meditation process. For a person who is visually oriented, holding a picture in your mind of someone or something which evokes positive feelings may be the best focusing tool. The picture should be seen as a single unit and not as a sense. This is because the mind could take the scene and use it to wander into imagination and fantasy.
Visual imagers could focus on an object such as a light, a candle, a specific design, the face of someone clearly esteemed, or some image from nature such as a flower, a stone, the sky or the ocean. One common focus for meditation is to simply watch the natural flow of one's own breath.
People who are more audiotorially oriented could choose a sound for a focus, such as sounds from nature - the wind in the trees or the lapping of the ocean waves. In Sancscrit, the word mantra means "sound vibration". Many mediators recite mantras to generate vibratory frequencies. Common mantras include: Om, hari om, om shanti, ram, hari ram, om namah shivaya. Many people prefer to use words from their own language such as "Peace", "Love" or "Joy". Even a meaningless syllable may be a useful mediation tool if it helps to focus the mind. People who are kinesthetically oriented may prefer to focus their attention on a sensation such as the touch of the wind against the skin, the feeling of motion as the breath flows in and out, or the sense of height one feels from being on the summit of a mountain.
This meditation experience can focus and calm the mind.
There are many poisitions that you can adopt for meditation. They range from the yogic lotus position to the shavasana position. You can use almost any comfortable position in which you can still your body and your mind. Two of the most commonly used postures are the half lotus and shavasana.
These techniques will serve as an introduction to breath awareness meditation.
Exercise 1: Sit comfortably in your chosen position, eyelids lowered or eyes closed. Breathe naturally, counting your breaths either on the inhalation or exhalation, from one to ten. Concentrate on the numbers and don't let your thoughts drift. Just keep focusing on the numbers and your breathing. This helps you to concentrate and stay alert.
Exercise 2: Sitting in the same position, breathe naturally. Focus your attention on the tips of your nostrils where the breath flows in and out of the body. Feel the sensation and focus on this. Don't let your attention wander.
Exercise 3: Sitting as before and breathing naturally, focus on the space between breaths - the space outside the body where the exhalation ends. Notice the stillness of the breath. Keep practising this breath awareness meditation and eventually it will help still the mind. You will find that the space between breaths increases with practice.