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A Newbie's Guide to Meditation

Reduce stress and improve your health anytime, anywhere with these simple steps
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The Beatles made it popular in the '60s and celebs like Oprah and Gwyneth Paltrow do it on the regular, but practicing meditation has some serious physical, emotional and spiritual benefits in addition to upping your hipster cred. Luckily, you don't have to travel to India or have your own television network to practice meditation.

According to psychologist Dr. Joe Taravella, M.D., meditation can keep your brain from shrinking! "As we age, the frontal-cortex part of our brain begins to thin, and meditation slows the thinning of our brain tissue," Taravella says. "[This] helps ward off signs of mental aging in attention, working memory and cognitive and emotional processing."

To take the confusion out of the practice and break down the three easiest ways to get started, we've enlisted the help of Gabrielle Bernstein, author of The New York Times bestseller "Miracles Now." So, as the Beatles sang, "Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream," to more relaxed and healthy living.

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The Omm-mazing Benefits
We've all seen those people who swear by meditation, are always in a good mood and look well-rested. And while maintaining a sunny disposition is as good a reason as any to give meditation a try, there also happen to be major long-term health benefits. Taravella says, "Researchers have indicated that meditation has a positive effect on many physical health-related issues, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer, allergies, asthma and pain management." Even better news: You can get these benefits from any meditation form, making the practice completely customizable to your preferences and time constraints.

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Surround Yourself with Positive Energy (and a Comfy Chair)
While Bernstein says you can meditate anywhere -- "a park bench, at your desk, on the subway or in the bath" (seriously, anywhere!) -- she recommends that newbies create a quiet and clean meditation space in their homes that promotes a sense of calmness. As for the amount of time you should devote to your practice? When you're starting out, five to 10 minutes is all you need.

Whether you prefer to sit cross-legged on the floor or on a cushion, just make sure to relax your body and adapt better posture by lengthening your spine. Once you've made sure to release any tension in the body (specifically in the shoulders, neck and face), take a moment to be silent and still before tip-toeing into one of the following methods.

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The One-Minute Meditation Method
If you're always on the go, or it's one of those days where you're pressed for time, no worries. "Even one minute of meditation can have a great impact on your overall well-being," says Bernstein, who came up with this simple plan.

"Silence your mind and calm your energy," Bernstein advises. "Then, follow these steps for 60 seconds."

1) Breathe in for five seconds
2) Hold your breath for five seconds
3) Release your breath for five seconds
4) Hold the exhale for five seconds

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Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation (MM) has been around for thousands of years, and it helps us focus our attention on what's happening around us and live in the present moment. In addition to the benefits listed earlier, regular practice of MM can help us more objectively analyze ourselves and improve concentration.

In order to bring your mind and body together in the present, MM focuses on breath -- not necessarily controlling it, but being aware of each breath you take and how it connects with your body. One of the perks of practicing this form of meditation is that while it's always ideal to practice in a quiet, comfortable space, MM is practiced with the eyes open and is about letting your mind objectively flow through thoughts -- so not only is the set-up simple, you can practice for any length of time.

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