We know…meditation seems, well, intimidating. But so did yoga and sushi 20 years ago.
Meditation is one of those things that elicits a strong response for people. For some, it’s associated with crystals, incense, and other new age-isms. For others, meditation seems like a religious or spiritual practice for men and women wearing robes, surrounded by candles and chanting mantras. Spiritual associations aside, it’s commonly believed that meditation has to be a time-consuming or uncomfortable practice done in caves or on mountaintops.
But here’s the thing, meditation today is much more science than it is spiritual or tradition. More studies and articles are published every day proving the benefits of meditation. Thought leaders and celebrities are speaking publicly about the benefits of their daily practices. And meditation communities and spaces are popping up in major cities. Awareness may be growing in spades, but meditation is still beleaguered by a few tough-to-shake myths.
Let’s dispel a few of them.
- Meditation is religious
Simply put, meditation is training the mind to be present and aware. While there are some meditation practices used in religious traditions ranging from Buddhism to Taoism and Hinduism, nothing religious needs to be a part of your practice for it to work. If you’re still having trouble grappling with a non-secular viewpoint of meditation, try thinking of meditating like you’re going to the gym, rather than visiting a house of worship - it’s a workout for your mind.
- Meditation takes too much time
If you have enough time to favorite tweets, like Instagram posts and curate Spotify playlists, then you have enough time to meditate. Taking five minutes (or even five breaths) out of your day is enough to feel calmer and clearer. With meditation, quantity does not always equate to quality. As your comfort level grows, you can start adding more time onto your meditation sessions to deepen your practice.
- Meditation only works with a blank mind
Maintaining a completely quiet mind is not realistic, nor is it the point of meditation. Even avid meditators who have spent years practicing would not say that they can completely shut down their minds at a moment’s notice. Rather than stopping all thought, the point of meditation is to simply observe thoughts and let them go. Don’t be hard on yourself over distracting thoughts popping into your mind, instead, simply observe the distraction and gently return your focus to your breath.
- Complete silence is essential
Often, a quiet environment is a great place to start meditating, because quietude eliminates external distractions. However, some people find complete quiet to be distracting in and of itself. Sound meditation using rhythm, vibrations or music is another common practice. Just find a soothing track or guide, pump up the volume and breathe with a beat. Check out Soundbath practitioner Sara Auster’s Soundcloud channel for some soothing sounds.
- Stillness is mandatory
More often than not, daily meditation practices are done while sitting in stillness. However, movement can be meditative, too. There’s a reason why yoga and meditation are so closely linked. Why? Because they’re completely focused on the present moment and absorbed in their poses rather than what happened at work the day before or what they’re going to have for dinner later. Many people also find that the best time to meditate is during a daily walk to work. You really can meditate anywhere and at any time.
- Meditation is a sham
For years, daily meditators would rave about the benefits they experienced from practicing but didn’t have the science to back it up. Today there is an array of published studies from renown scientists and institutions that prove the benefits of meditation. From Harvard’s 2011 8 Weeks to A Better Brain study, which documented meditation’s effect on the brain’s gray matter, to Wake Forest’s Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief findings, the science is in that meditation is far more than just another self-help fad.
Here’s the bottom line: meditation doesn’t have to be intimidating, spiritual, silent or still. The beauty of meditation is that it’s highly personal and can be anything you’d like it to be. Don’t be afraid to explore new and out-of-the-box ways to incorporate meditation into your life; there’s no right way to calm your mind and undo the stress of your daily life.