Meditation has become more and more mainstream lately thanks to the Internet. What once used to be thought of as just a religious practice for Buddhist monks is now known as a secular practice that is helpful for anyone and everyone. There is nothing special or mystical about meditation. It is simply an effective way to practice calming the mind. I've come to see it as one of the main pillars of health along with proper nutrition and exercise.
There are many different ways to practice meditation. You don't have to be sitting or lying down. Many people meditate while they run, walk, or do yoga. In fact, even if they aren't aware of it, a lot of people do those activities in large part for their meditative benefits. The modern world is constantly pulling us in a lot of different directions. We are not built to multitask like that so our modern lifestyles are very taxing on us. One of the greatest tools we have for helping to manage that stress is meditation. If you start consciously practicing meditation, you will become that much more calm and resilient to the everyday and no-so-everyday stresses of life. Meditation helps to surface underlying thoughts pressing on you that you would not be consciously aware of otherwise. Becoming consciously aware of these thoughts allows you to address them properly. Meditation has also been instrumental in my development of widsom and being able to create the website you are reading now.
Though there are many ways to practice meditation, they share the common thread of practicing focus, awareness, and release of our thoughts. Some people think they cannot meditate. While focusing on your breath, inhale deeply through your nose, hold it for a second, and slowly exhale through your mouth. There; you just meditated. There is no absolute minimum time for meditation. You don't need to isolate yourself from all distractions. Until you've had more practice, however, keeping the duration short and isolating yourself from distractions will definitely help. Start meditating for one breath each day. Once you've got the hang of and made that a habit, start trying for the next smallest amount of time you can commit to. Maybe it's two breaths. Maybe it's one minute. Before you know it, you'll have worked your way up to 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, or whatever amount of time feels right for you. I'm not saying you should have a goal of meditating for an hour each day. With practice, you will discover your own optimal amount of time to reap the benefits of meditation while still having plenty of free time for the other things in your life. Mediation will help make your free time that much freer in your mind, and like the saying goes, "perception is reality."
Some people find it helpful to make a nonsensical sound, or mantra, while breathing out. ("Om" is a common example.) Others may count their breaths while others may just paradoxically try to focus on nothing at all. There are also many guided meditations out there. These are benefical for meditators, beginners and experienced alike. Some of my favorites so far include:
Headspace is a web and mobile app with a free introductory series into meditation. The founder of Headspace, Andrew Puddicombe, has a good TED Talk video introduction to meditation called All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes.
Aware is a mobile app with a free introductory series into meditation.
Brain Sync produces many different meditations utilizing binaural beats. These beats are supposed to sync with the frequencies of your brain waves to produce a more effecive meditation. I'm not sure I've personally found them to be more effective than other meditations, but they're still worth checking out.
Getting Into The Vortex
Getting Into The Vortex consists of 15-minute guided meditations in the popular areas of finances, relationships, and health, in addition to a more general one. It's a touch on the New Agey side, but not too bad. I like these meditations because the music helps guide your breathing and there is a nice balance of guided and music-only sections.
It is a good idea to try out different guided meditations and styles of meditation. Each one will appeal to you more or less at different times. I like to mix it up, but my personal favorite is to set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and just sit. I try to remain focused on proper posture, my breath, or keeping my mind as blank as possible. Many thoughts will inevitably pop up throughout the meditation. I acknowledge or thank those thoughts, let them go, and relax back into a blank mind. I like this meditation because it is just long enough to settle my mind and surfaces thoughts I may otherwise not be consciously aware of.
If you look for meditation instruction long enough, you will eventually come across companies that are more than willing to charge you a lot of money to learn to meditate their way. These companies usually take one form of guided meditation, mantra-based for example, trademark it, and charge you an arm and a leg to learn it. In my opinion, there is nothing special about their methods and unless you have a hole burning in your pocket they're not worth the money. There are plenty of free and inexpensive resources out there to learn it on your own.