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Peathegee Inc via Getty Images

Peathegee Inc via Getty Images

New to meditating? It can be confusing. Not new to meditating? It can still be confusing.

The practice of meditation is said to have been around for thousands of years — and yet, in the last few, especially in America, it seems that everyone knows at least one person who has taken on the ancient art of de-stressing.

Because it has been around for so long and because there are many different types of meditation, there are some essential truths you should know before you too take the dive into meditation or mindfulness (or both). Take a look at the suggestions below.

1. You don’t need a mantra (but you can have one if you want).

It has become common for people to confuse mantra with the idea of an intention or specific words to live by. A motto. But the actual word “mantra” means something quite different. Man means mind and tra means vehicle. A mantra is a mind-vehicle. Mantras can be used in meditation as a tool to help your mind enter (or stay in) your meditation practice.

Other types of meditation use things like sound, counting breaths or even just the breath itself as a similar tool. Another way to think about a mantra is like an anchor. It anchors your mind as you meditate and can be what you come back to when your thoughts (inevitably) wander.

2. Don’t expect your brain to go blank.

One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that your mind is supposed to go blank and that you reach a super-Zen state of consciousness. This is typically not true. It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to try to clear thoughts from your brain during meditation.

The “nature of the mind to move from one thought to another is in fact the very basis of meditation,” says Deepak Chopra, a meditation expert and founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. “We don’t eliminate the tendency of the mind to jump from one thought to another. That’s not possible anyway.” Depending on the type of meditation you learn, there are tools for gently bringing your focus back to your meditation practice. Alternatively, some types of meditation actually emphasize being present and mindful to thoughts as they arise as part of the practice.

3. You do not have to sit cross-legged or hold you hands in any position.

You can sit in any position that is comfortable to you. Most people sit upright in a chair or on a cushion. Your hands can fall gently in your lap or at your sides. It is best not to lie down unless you’re doing a body scan meditation or meditation for sleep.

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