Despite the new growth in the popularity of meditation, widespread misconceptions about the practice are a roadblock that prevents many people from trying meditation and receiving its amazing benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Here are seven of the most common meditation myths debunked.
Myth #1: Meditation is difficult.
Truth: This myth is rooted in the visualization of meditation as an esoteric practice reserved only for saints, holy men, and spiritual gurus. In reality, when you receive instruction from an experienced, knowledgeable teacher, meditation can be easy and fun to learn. The techniques can be as simple as focusing on the breath or silently repeating a mantra. One reason why meditation may seem difficult is that we try too hard to concentrate, we’re overly attached to results, or we’re not sure we are doing it right.
Myth #2: You have to quiet your mind in order to have a successful meditation practice.
Truth: This may be the number one myth about meditation and is the cause of many people giving up in frustration. Meditation is NOT about stopping our thoughts or trying to empty our mind – both of these approaches only create stress and more noisy internal chatter. We can’t stop or control our thoughts, but we CAN decide how much attention to give them. Although we can’t force our minds to be silent, through meditation we can find the silence that already exists in the space between our thoughts. When we meditate, it can be helpful to use an object of attention, such as our breath, an image, or a mantra, which allows our mind to relax into this silent stream of awareness. When thoughts arise, and they will, we don’t need to judge them or try to push them away. Instead, we quickly return our attention to our object of attention. In every meditation, there are moments, even if only milliseconds, when the mind dips into this space and experiences the revitalization of pure awareness. As you meditate on a regular basis, you will spend more and more time in this state of expanded awareness and silence.
Be assured that even if it feels like you have been thinking throughout your entire meditation, you are still receiving the benefits of your practice. You haven’t failed or wasted your time.
Myth #3: It takes years of dedicated practice to receive any benefits from meditation.
Truth: The benefits of meditation are both immediate and long-term. You can begin to experience benefits the first time you sit down to meditate and in the first few days of daily practice. Meditation can have profound effects on the mind-body physiology within just weeks of practice. In only a short time of practicing meditation, it can help people experience decreased anxiety and greater feelings of calmness; it can also produce growth in the areas of the brain associated with memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress regulation. The ability to sleep more soundly is often one of the first noticed benefits of meditation. Other common benefits of meditation include improved concentration, decreased blood pressure, and enhanced immune function.
Myth #4: Meditation is escapism.
Truth: The real purpose of meditation isn’t to tune out and get away from it all but to tune into your higher self. In meditation you dive below the mind’s chaotic surface, which tends to be filled with repetitive thoughts about the past and worries about the future, into the still point of pure consciousness. In this state of transcendent awareness, you let go of all the stories you’ve been telling yourself about who you are, what is holding you back, and where you fall short – and you begin to experience the truth that your deepest Self is infinite and unbounded. As you practice on a regular basis, you clean the window of perception and your clarity expands.
Myth #5: I don’t have enough time to meditate.
Truth: There are busy people that haven’t missed a meditation in decades, and if you make meditation a priority, you WILL do it! If you feel like your schedule is too full, remember that even just a few minutes of meditation is better than none. We encourage you not to talk yourself out of meditating just because it’s a bit late or you feel too sleepy.
In life’s paradoxical way, when we spend time meditating on a regular basis, we actually have more time. While in meditation, we are in a state of restful alertness that is extremely refreshing for the body and mind. As people continue to follow through with their meditation ritual, they notice that they are able to accomplish more while doing less. Instead of fighting so hard to achieve goals, they spend more time “in the flow” – aligned with collective intelligence that orchestrates everything.
Myth #6: Meditation is a spiritual or religious practice.
Truth: Meditation is a practice that takes us beyond the noisy chatter of the mind into a place of stillness and silence. It doesn’t require a specific spiritual belief, and many people of many different religions practice meditation without any conflict with their current religious beliefs. Some meditators have no particular religious beliefs or are atheist or agnostic. They meditate in order to experience inner quiet and the numerous physical and mental health benefits of the practice – including lowered blood pressure, stress reduction, and restful sleep. Meditation helps us to enrich our lives. It enables us to enjoy whatever we do in our lives more fully and happily – whether that is playing sports, taking care of our children, or advancing in our career.
Myth #7: I’m supposed to have transcendent experiences in meditation.
Truth: Some people are disappointed when they don’t experience visions, see colors, levitate, hear a choir of angels, or glimpse enlightenment when they meditate. The real benefits of meditation are what happens in the other hours of the day when we’re going about our daily lives. When we emerge from our meditation session, we carry some of the stillness and silence of our practice with us, allowing us to be more creative, compassionate, centered, and loving to ourselves and everyone we encounter.