There is nothing mystical or complicated about meditation - in fact, the reverse is true.
But it is challenging, and there is plenty of confusion about what is it, and how meditation can help.
Wikipedia's definition is pretty rounded: "Meditation describes a state of concentrated awareness on some object of thought or awareness. It usually involved turning the attention to the mind itself."
There are different ways to practice, the most simple being to just sit with your breath, noticing every inhale and exhale. Thoughts will come and go all the time - just let them be. Notice them but don't get involved with them.
For most of us, becoming aware of the mind, and the tricks it plays, is an alien concept - and beginners to meditation can find sitting quietly with the mind a rather unnerving experience.
Like anything, however, perseverance will pay off. Here are some top tips to get you started:
* Begin with a few yoga stretches, to prepare your body for sitting. Hip openers such as wide-legged child's pose are good. Then sit on the floor in easy pose (cross legged), on a couple of cushions, or on a chair, with your spine straight.
* Take some long, deep breaths to start with - perhaps for about two minutes. Then watch your breath return to its normal pace.
* Add some counting if that helps you focus on your breath - at the end of the first exhale, count one. At the end of the next exhale, count two - and so on, until you reach ten. Then start again.
* You may find you don't get further than one or two counts at first. Don't worry - this is just the so-called Monkey Mind, up to its usual tricks.
* Concentration, kindness and patience are key to meditation. Maintaining focus is hard work - but it's important not to get frustrated with yourself. Just come back to the breath, without criticism, whenever your mind wanders.
* Make a commitment to practising. You don't need to sit still for a long time - five minutes is long enough at first.
* Find a quiet space to practice, and try and try to stick to a routine. The early (ish) morning, when the mind is still relatively clear, is the ideal time.
Most of us are used to our minds being constantly stimulated. So settling into ‘just being' can be a huge challenge.
But the rewards for your dedication and patience can be wide-ranging - the benefits of regular meditation include increased reduced stress, improved focus and clarity, and a more compassionate understanding of yourself and others.
Recommended reading on meditation for beginners:
Meditation for Beginners - Jack Kornfield
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind - Shunry Suzuki
Mindfulness in Plain English - Bhante Henepola Gunaratana