DISPELLING THE MYTHS OF MEDITATION
Quick quiz: what image and feelings are conjured up when you hear the word meditation? Do you think of hippies, the New Age Movement, or the Dalai Lama? Do you have an immediate negative reaction to the word? Or a dismissive response of “that’s not for me?” Could I provoke you to keep reading if I said you might have a new image of meditation by the time you finish reading this blog post? Or, at the very least, do you promise to stay with me if I promise to stop asking so many questions? I hope so, because I’m about to dispel some meditation myths that often prevent individuals (myself included!) from considering this time-tested, simple, free, and highly beneficial practice.
Source: Personal Excellence
MYTH #1: It’s religious and/or not compatible with my religion.
This myth most likely stems from the Hindu and Buddhist origins of meditation,. However, the reality is that meditation is practiced in every major religion as a technique, not as a belief system. Fasting is also a technique used in conjunction with religious or spiritual practices, but that doesn’t mean that fasting is religious or spiritual in and of itself (think blood work in a fasted state or the current trend of intermittent fasting). Likewise, meditation is simply a technique that only has religious overtones if you want to give it those overtones.
MYTH #2: People like me don’t meditate.
Generally speaking, Type-A personalities like myself loathe the thought of meditation; it’s so “out there,” so different, so not in our nature. Yet, the older I get, the more I realize that people with my disposition (those who stress a lot and can’t sit still) probably need meditation the most. Famous athletes, business people, and celebrities alike have long been known to use meditation to improve performance, focus, and health (e.g. Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rupert Murdoch, Oprah Winfrey, Cynthia McFadden, Robin Roberts, and even Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman). However, it wasn’t until a friend of mine introduced me to an app called Calm that I realized my peers are now meditating too. In fact, many people meditate on a regular basis and don’t even realize it (see Where to Begin for ways you might already be meditating).
MYTH #3: I can’t sit still or have an empty mind.
This myth is powerful on a few levels. On one level, for some individuals, it simply is more challenging to turn down the dial of their inner dialogue and sit still. Some personalities are “higher strung,” but that’s not to say that they cannot improve their health or focus with meditation. In fact, they can (see Myth #5).
Secondly, this myth assumes that you have to sit still and/or have an empty mind to meditate, which isn’t accurate. You can meditate while walking or doing other movements, including fidgeting (mindfulness meditation). You can also meditate while focusing on a calming vision/image (guided meditation), or while repeating a calming thought, prayer, phrase, or word (mantra meditation).
Finally, this myth touches upon unrealistic expectations while beginning a meditation practice. Saying you cannot begin to practice meditation because you are fidgety and have a running to-do list in your head is like saying, “I can’t start exercising because I’m out of shape.” The calm and focus comes from the practice, not before the practice. Be gentle with yourself; the only expectations when you start to meditate are that you take the time to practice and you try to focus, nothing more.
MYTH #4: I don’t have time to meditate.
Some individuals meditate for one minute a day; some practice hours. This is based on personal factors and may ebb and flow over time (like any practice). Having a consistent meditation practice is key, even if it’s for only one minute each day. A lot of people find combining meditation with other daily rituals (e.g. brushing teeth, making your morning coffee, the walk to lunch, etc.) helps them with consistency. That being said, there is much value in spontaneous meditation as well, especially when you are under stress and/or anxiety. Meditation is a wonderful tool to ease stress in a very short time, and, in fact, you may already be doing it to self-soothe (see Where to Begin).
MYTH #5: There’s no real benefit to meditation.
The reality is that there are few decisions we make that have the potential to impact our body, mind, and spirit as effectively as meditation. Here are the most cited benefits:
- Increased immune function
- Decreased pain
- Decreased inflammation at the cellular level
- Increased positive emotion
- Decreased depression
- Decreased anxiety
- Decreased stress
- Increased social connectedness and emotional intelligence
- Increased compassion
- Decreased loneliness
- Increased emotional regulation
- Increased introspection
- Increased grey matter in the brain
- Increased focus and attention
- Increased ability to multitask
- Increased creativity
Source: Anna Berkut via Getty Images
WHERE TO BEGIN
Now that we’ve busted some myths and misconceptions about meditation, let’s discuss some simple, realistic ways to see if meditation is something you can add to your life. The most important point when beginning is to remember that your meditation practice doesn’t have to be perfect. Toss your preconceptions out the window and just experiment to see what works for you.
Here are some simple ways to practice meditation in your daily life:
- Breathe deeply. If you can breathe, you can try this. Just take a deep breath in and focus. Listen to your inhalations and exhalations, and slow them down if you can. When your mind wanders (and it will), just go back to your breath.
- Do a body scan. Focus your attention on different parts of your body. If you are stressed, ask yourself where you are feeling that stress in your body. If your feet are planted on the ground, focus on your feet and how they feel. You can choose any body part or sensation to focus on, they key is to focus.
- Combine the body scan with the deep breathing meditation (this is perfect for multi-tackers).
- Repeat a mantra or prayer and really focus on the words.
- Meditate while you walk. You can focus on your breathing, your body (as you take each step), or any of the sights, sounds, or smells of being outdoors. You don’t have to be in a serene environment for this to work, you can be in a city, walking around your office building, or even at home. Again, the key is focus.
- Listen to music that comforts and inspires you and really focus on the sounds, words, and message of the music.
- Focus on something you love and hold dearly, and weave thoughts of compassion and gratitude into your thoughts.
Other places to start are with smartphone apps like Calm, The Mindfulness App (Mindapps), and Omvana (Mindvalley Creations), or through a class in your community. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to meditate, so have fun experimenting with what works for you and enjoying all the benefits that meditation provides.
– TANYA RUNCI, MA, ADE