8 meditation myths to stop believing
There are undoubtedly a number of health benefits associated with meditation. However, misinformation can make you feel as if you are meditating incorrectly, when in reality, there is no right way to practice meditation. But where does all this confusion come from? The uncertainty about how to practice meditation stems from the meaning of the word, which oftentimes, has been used inaccurately in Western culture. Some refer to meditation as contemplating while others use the word to describe daydreaming. But, in reality meditation refers to neither of these.
Meditation isn’t about achieving perfection. It is about consistency. Meditation is a form of mental exercise that is used to train your mind so that you can reach a higher level of awareness, clarity, fulfillment, peace, and perspective. It is not about the duration of time spent meditating but the quality of time. It is not about turning off thoughts but rather viewing those thoughts through a non judgemental lens, and shifting your focus to deep breaths. It is not about stopping your roll-coaster of emotions but rather learning how to cope through mindful practice. As the practice of meditation continues to rise in popularity, a number of myths have surfaced. Unfortunately, these misconceptions may be a deterrent, may cause frustrations, and may make you feel like meditation is not for you. This ultimately prevents people from trying and reaping the benefits of meditation on the mind, body, and soul. With that said, let’s dispel some of the most common meditation myths that may be preventing you from practicing mindful meditation.
Myth 1 - You can’t meditate if you don’t have a quiet and empty mind
Silencing your thoughts in order to successfully meditate is the number one myth that hinders people from wanting to take part in this practice. The truth of the matter is that meditation isn’t about emptying and turning off your thoughts. The mind is rarely at rest and thinking occurs just as naturally as breathing. It is an inevitable and natural condition for the mind to wander during meditation and trying to shut off your thoughts will only lead to internal stress. The goal is not to impose a sense of quiet on our minds but rather accept that thoughts will enter and exit freely during meditation. Although misinformation leads us to believe that you need to tune out thoughts, the objective is not to empty your mind but rather tune in and focus on the present moment. Through this, you can learn how to have deeper control of your thoughts and emotions through awareness and redirect your attention to a point of focus such as conscious breathing, an object, or an internal mantra. The only time at which meditation may present you with a “clear” mind is when you are moving from one thought to another.
Myth 2 - There is only one type of meditation
If there was only one type of meditation technique, the practice of mindful meditation may not be as widespread and popular as it is today. There are many different techniques to choose from but you have to find the one that best resonates with you as meditation is a practice that is highly personal. Here are some styles that may speak to you!
- Focused attention - one of the most common and straightforward forms of meditation. During this technique, the object of our attention is deep breaths that are used to restore wandering thoughts.
- Visualization - similar to focused attention, with the difference that here, we replace the deep breath with a mental picture of someone or something as the main object of focus.
- Loving-kindness - the intention of this type of visualization technique is the extension of positive thoughts onto others and focusing on their unlimited happiness. As a result, feelings of internal discontent will dissipate.
- Reflection - this style of meditation requires you to ask yourself a question in the second person such as, “What makes you happy?” Phrasing the question using the second person will prevent a response from your rational mind thus allowing the focus to shift from rational thought to a reflection of emotions.
- Body scan - the goal here is to form a relationship between mind and body. This is achieved through performing a mental scan from your head all the way to your toes. While paying careful attention to your level of relaxation, discomfort, and sensations, you become aware of your mood through a non-judgemental lens.
- Skillful compassion - this technique involves focusing your attention on a person you hold close to your heart and narrowing down all of the little details that you love about them. Through this, you shift your focus from life stressors to the feelings in your heart, which in turn fosters internal emotions of happiness.
Myth 3 - Meditation can only be practiced in silence
Silence is a powerful tool, especially when used in the practice of meditation. However, one’s physical space and body does not need to be silent in order to achieve a silent mind. You can still transcend into a meditative state while walking, running, or humming along to your favourite tune. It is important to remember that in order to reach a state of meditation, you need to be able to shift your entire focus from your thoughts to your breath, object, mental imagery, or mantra. There is, however, one specific type of meditation that does require silence. Vipassana meditation, one of India’s most ancient meditation practices, focuses on deep interconnectedness between the mind and body. Here, it is imperative that you have disciplined attention to your breath and silent surroundings. In the end, some individuals cannot meditate in silence while others cannot meditate with sound, it is a personal preference which can be invaluable in forming the basis for your meditation practice.
Myth 4 - Meditation is relaxation
Relaxation is a state that is achieved once you are free of life’s stressors and anxieties. Meditation can be used as a technique to reach relaxation but it is by no means a relaxing experience for some. It is also important to note that not all types of meditation will invoke feelings of relaxation as a result. Relaxation meditation is a technique that will aid with stress management and lead to relaxation. However, other techniques such as body scan, visualization, loving kindness, and reflection, to name a few, focus on stabilizing your mind.
For beginner meditators, the practice of meditation can be an intimidating thought and evoke feelings of anxiety and agitation. Sitting alone with one’s own thoughts can be discomforting and seen as a hindrance to people meditating. With our thoughts come emotions and we all have emotions that we would rather not have surfaced or resurfaced. As you transcend into a state of awareness and reach a deeper understanding of one’s inner self, feelings that may be buried within one’s mind are brought into consciousness. To become fully aware means that you will not only equate mindfulness with fulfillment, happiness, and elatement, but also with vulnerability, sadness, confusion, worry, and anger, to name a few. With meditation comes the good, the bad, the happy, and the sad, and for some, this may not lead to a level of relaxation but an uncomfortable emotional experience, which they may not be ready to face. With that said, as you are more actively engaged in the practice of meditation, relaxation and focus can be seen as benefits.
Myth 5 - Meditation takes hours to complete
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to meditate for hours to see benefits. A simple 5-minute meditation break will provide you with the mental recharge that is oftentimes needed. No matter where you may be, you can pause, close your eyes and take part in a bite-size meditation.
If you find the practice of meditation as an important one, you will make time for it. To see where you may be spending your time ineffectively, try this little exercise. On a given day, take note of all the unproductive time that is spent watching TV, searching the web, or scrolling through social media. After this exercise you will gain clarity about where you are spending time that truly isn’t purposeful. You can then use this time or a fraction of this time for bettering your day-to-day life with mindful meditation.
This can then lead to habitualizing your meditation process. You can start with a small 5-minute meditation and then gradually increase the increment of time until you have found a length of time that you can confidently stick with. You may also want to try and associate meditation with one of your daily activities such as making your bed in the morning, pouring a cup of coffee, or brushing your teeth. Always remember that meditation is a give and take relationship. You will get out of it, what you put in. If you put in the time, leading to increased focus and motivation, you will get more productive time out of it.
Myth 6 - Meditation is a practice only for those who are stressed
Although there is a relation between practicing mindful meditation and decreased levels of the cortisol-driven stress response, many people use the practice of meditation for overall enhanced mental and physical wellbeing. In addition to reducing levels of stress, mindfulness meditation is a habitual practice that is also used for those looking to improve the following:
- Cognition - meditation strengthens brain activity, connectivity and volume, sustains focus, and reorients awareness, all of which can counteract a decline in memory associated with dementia
- Sleep - meditation is a natural sleep aid and can improve insomnia severity. Throughout this process, heart rates are lowered, initiating the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows breathing, reduces tension, and allows you to transcend into a peaceful state for an enhanced quality of sleep.
- Focus - meditation improves mental focus by decluttering your mind, increasing concentration, restoring attention, and decreasing negative reactions to stress
- Compassion - referred to as loving-kindness or “meta meditation,” this practice places an emphasis on positive emotions and actions towards not only yourself but towards others
- Aggression - wasteful energy in the form of anger harbours and builds until a rash emotional response is ignited. Meditation aims to provide reflection and awareness about the situation so that we can transform a reactive mindset into one that is more responsive and rational through comprehension of emotional reactivity.
- Weight loss - meditation aims to foster a healthy relationship with food by removing negative feelings and connotations about eating habits. This is done through the understanding of mindful eating, stress eating, and intuitive eating.
Myth 7 - Meditation is a religious practice
Many people associate the term meditation with religion, which may hinder individuals from wanting to take part in this mindful practice. However, meditation serves as a tool for many purposes. It can be used as a practice to pray and connect to a higher entity, if one chooses, but it can also be used to connect to oneself on a deeper, more personal level. Individuals are able to take part in religious meditations, with roots stemming from Buddhism and Hinduism, or meditation practices that are not centered around any particular religion.
Meditation and religion also have a distinction in terms of faith. Religious practice is built upon faith; faith in a higher divinity and faith in scripture, which are to be seen as an extension of truth and reality. On the other hand, meditation does not dismiss the importance of faith but is more deeply rooted in reaching a higher level of consciousness. With that said, you can practice meditation without a religious or spiritual affiliation and without any conflict to current religious beliefs as this practice is based solely on calming the mind, body, and soul.
Myth 8 - Meditation is a form of escapism
Some people take part in the practice of meditation as a way to escape emotional distress and anxieties. However, the intent of meditation is not to get out of touch with your inner negative narratives and quiet the chatter from an undisciplined mind, but rather to get further in touch with your innermost self. During your meditative state, you go deep beneath the mind’s surface and enter an area of the mind that is often filled with pessimistic thoughts, doubts, and worries about the past, present, and future. In this sense, meditation cannot be used as a mechanism to counteract unresolved issues but rather it is used as a tool to transcend into a state of awareness and peace.