21 days to a new you: Meditate

Congratulations! You've made the decision to focus on your inner beauty and harmony just as much as your outer beauty.
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Meditation is a real gift to yourself — it helps reduce stress, keep small irritations in perspective, and grounds you when you most need it.  A Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital study in 2011 concluded that participants who meditated twice a day showed marked changes in MRI scans of the areas of their brains related to empathy and sense of self (more dense) and anxiety and stress (less dense). Taking even a few minutes a day to refocus the brain and breath can calm you. And who living in this stressful world wouldn't want a little more serenity?

By Anne Hurley for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 23 Woman meditating on a rock (Christer Fredriksson/Getty Images)

Day 1: Join a meditation group

If you've made the decision to start meditating, it may help you kick-start your plan to join a group. There are classes offered online and at Buddhist temples — even through meet up groups. Attending a class regularly helps get you in the habit of making meditating a priority, and seeing and trying different methods — accompanied with different guidance, chants, incense, and music — will give you tools to take home and use in your own practice.

2 of 23 Meditation group (Tuan Tran/Getty Images)

Day 2: Take a yoga class that specifically incorporates meditation into the practice

More and more yoga classes offer "mindful meditation" as part of the yoga practice. You may not find these classes at fitness-specific yoga classes (say, at your gym, or at a Bikram studio). Check yoga studios around your city and ask your favorite yoga instructors and friends who practice. Guided yoga meditation can be an excellent "two-fer," with a yoga workout that helps your body feel more alive and engaged, and a meditation that brings that sense of well-being inward.

Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, recommends that you try to settle your mind and pay attention to what happens in class. "If you’re like most people, you’ll lose track of your counting as thoughts barge in and demand your attention."

3 of 23 Yoga class (Stephan Zabel/Getty Images)

Day 3: Practice walking meditation

There are a lot of ways you can meditate on your own, and make up your own rules. I have several friends who practice "walking meditation." As you walk, concentrate on how your body feels. Focus on one sense at a time — what you see, what you hear, what you smell, and so forth. Notice your body's feelings without judgment. This can be a very relaxing yet energizing way to meditate, and you can do it all on your own. (Just make sure you don't trip on a pothole as you're walking!)

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4 of 23 Walking meditation (David Freund/Getty Images)

Day 5: Meditate before you fall asleep

This can be an excellent practice and a lovely way to end each day. When you are lying in bed, see if you can remember your first moments of the day and be mindful of everything you experienced, without judging it. Breathe in and out deeply and mindfully, and appreciate everything that you thought and did during the day. Give yourself permission to have had a lovely day, and to expect one tomorrow.

5 of 23 Person sleeping (Tetra Images/Getty Images)

Day 4: Read a book for inspiration

Everyone can meditate, and you can do it to suit your own personality. If you're not the "om" type, browse your local bookstore for a book that will give you ideas that work for you, cynic and all. One book that many recommend is Sarah McLean's very accessible book, "Soul Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation." You may find that simply immersing yourself in reading a book about meditation will subtly attune you to different ways of thinking about and approaching meditating as well as your daily life.

6 of 23 Meditation book (David Freund/Getty Images)

Day 6: Sign up for a yoga retreat

If you truly want to get away from it all and enable yourself to focus on meditation as part of a new lifestyle, consider a yoga or meditation retreat. Being where other like-minded individuals are tending to body and soul will help you realize new ways to be contemplative.The great thing about a meditation or yoga retreat is that there are no expectations on what or how to do it, other than to be present and to be open. Even a weekend retreat can be enough to open your mind to a practice you can easily bring back to the "real world."

7 of 23 Flexible yoga (Image Source/Getty Images)

Day 7: Practice mindful breathing

Breathe in through your nose for a count of 10. Hold it for a few seconds, and breathe out for a count of 10. Repeat five times to begin, and add more repetitions as you become more comfortable with it. Allow your mind to wander; don't judge yourself if you can't empty your mind completely. Notice what you are thinking. If you can let go of what you are thinking, see how that feels too. It can be so relaxing, like a five-minute vacation.

8 of 23 A woman being mindful (Rune Johansen/Getty Images)

Day 8: Choose music to help transport you

Some people find music can really help them get in a calm, meditative mindset. Try different channels on Pandora or iTunes, or try Nirvana Radio, http://www.108.pl/. Artists like Steve Halpern, Liquid Mind, and others have produced relaxing, calming CDs with a variety of music that can help with meditation. There are also CDs of Tibetan chakra meditations and Tibetan "singing bowl" sounds that can be very transportive. Listen to samples online or at your local music store and buy a few to try.

9 of 23 Listening to music (eva serrabassa/Getty Images)

Day 9: Pick a word for your mantra

Many people find that picking a word to say as your meditation mantra can help ground you in a moment. Pick a word that calms you or is significant for you in some way. If you pray, it can be part of a prayer. Say it privately to yourself as you practice deep breathing. Say it in the morning before you get out of bed, and at night before you drift off to sleep. Write it down in a private place, which will help give it significance for you going forward.

10 of 23 Mantra words (Doug Berry/Getty Images)