Meditation generally involves discounting wandering thoughts and fantasies, and calming and focusing the mind; however meditation does not necessarily require effort and can be experienced as "just happening". Physical postures include sitting cross-legged (in whichever way you feel comfortable), standing, lying down, and walking (sometimes along designated floor patterns).
While sitting, the back is often straight as an arrow with hand open, right hand above left and right thumb connecting to the left thumb, forming a triangle shape and aligned with the navel (as shown on the picture). Quietness is often desirable, and some people use repetitive activities such as deep breathing, humming or chanting to help induce a meditative state.
Meditation can be done with the eyes closed (as long as one does not fall asleep), or with the eyes open: focusing the eyes on a certain point of an object or image, and keeping the eyes constantly looking at that point.
Besides the physical factors related to meditation perhaps the most important strategy relates to the very process through which the relevant state of consciousness is achieved. The most common approach is to focus one's full attention on the natural cycle of breathing. As one takes in a breath, one is called to experience that particular inbreath fully, as if nothing else existed in the world at that particular moment in time. Similarly, one follows the outbreath with full awareness. If for any reason the mind should get distracted during this process the key is to acknowledge this shift in attention, slowly pull one's awareness back to the breath, and continue focusing on its natural cycle. Another common approach is to attempt to block all sensory input (visual, auditory, and tactile being key) and concentrate on something other than oneself.
Purposes of meditation
The purposes for which people meditate vary almost as widely as practices. It may serve simply as a means of relaxation from a busy daily routine, or even as a means of gaining insight into the nature of reality or of communing with one's God. Many report improved concentration, awareness, self-discipline and equanimity through meditation. The disciplined self-cultivation aspect of meditation plays a central role in Taoism, Sufism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Generally, there are religious meditation, in which one meditates on or in communion with the Divine, and focus meditation, in which one meditates to improve health or mental faculties. The 'divine' need not be any specific deity and may be unknown; 'focus' need not include concentration on any specific item and may include intuitive inner 'quantum leaps'. The two positions often overlap in meditative traditions. However, see spiritual materialism.