How many of you have made learning to meditate your New Year’s resolution? And how many of you are following through? The initial excitement is often followed by a sigh of “I know I should but” and a plethora of excuses that complete the sentence. Sound familiar?
I’ve written about how meditation can help you stay healthy and make you more productive, and offered quick reset exercises here, here and here. In this blog, I want to bust some meditation myths to inspire you to give it a try.
Myth 1: you should meditate sitting down
Did you just picture a yogi sitting cross-legged with his eyes closed? Many people think that they need to sit in a pretzel-like position to be “good at meditating”. Not really.
You don’t need to sit in lotus pose on your journey to alpha. Meditation can take many forms—standing, walking, sitting and even lying down. They key is to be comfortable so energy can flow freely through your body. Wear loose clothes; relax your face (including your jaws and eyebrows!), shoulders and your whole body. If you choose to meditate in a seated position, bring your head, neck and back into a straight line.
I love meditating lying down. It’s usually how I start and end my day. I spend so much time sitting in the car and in meetings that my body craves to be in a position other than seated.
Myth 2: you should empty your mind
Unless you have studied yoga, Ayurveda or another subtle practice (i.e., a practice that works with tools that address your well-being beyond your physical body), the idea of “emptying your mind” may seem like an impossible feat (or may just not make any sense at all).
Let’s get some basic concepts out of the way. On a high level, there are two approaches to meditation: awareness and control. Followers of transcendental meditation (TM) may argue that TM is in its own category since they believe that it’s more than awareness due to the inclusion of a personal mantra and a technique called “automatic self transcending” (Transcendental Meditation, 2016). Let’s put that aside for now.
Awareness-based (or witness) meditation, such as mindfulness meditation, practices observance. You acknowledge the thoughts and sensations that emerge without qualifying them, and then let them go. The focus here is on the process of awareness rather than the context. Control-based meditation, such as vipassana meditation, uses concentration on an object, such as your breath, as the underlying technique.
So what can you do if you can’t “empty your mind”? Start with short exercises instead. They’ll be more fun and give you a sense of success as you start out. They’ll also be great for building your meditation muscles.
Check out 3 of my favorite exercises and download the PDF:
Myth 3: you should meditate at least an hour
Wouldn’t that be nice? People often ask me how long I meditate for. I don’t know. As long as it feels good or until I feel like it’s time to come out. Sometimes it’s 5 minutes, sometimes it’s 45 minutes. The length of time is secondary. A 2012 study has found that “the longer meditation duration did not add any additional effect” in reducing anxiety in a comparison of studies (Chen et al. 2012).
It’s the quality that matters. Each day is different – I’ve had times that it took me longer to get to my happy place than the length of time I was in it, and that’s ok. Don’t expect to be on the same deep level during the entire session. Moments of bliss will come and go, and your goal should be to recognize and savor these moments. The more you practice, the more moments you’ll experience.
Focus on building consistency. Start with practicing a few minutes at a time multiple times a week. Don’t get frustrated if you are not progressing as fast as you’d like. It’s not a sprint.Consistency is more important with #meditation than length of time. Click To Tweet
Myth 4: it’s one more thing to add to my day
I get it, your days are full—you have no bandwidth to make room for yet another thing. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Make meditation a part of how you do ordinary things. For example, pay full attention (without multi-tasking) to every detail when doing the dishes—the sounds, temperature, colors, smells and texture of the plates, dish soap and sponge as you clean the dirty plates one at a time.
My meditation and daily gratitude practice go hand in hand. I start and end my day with acknowledging the people, things and experiences I’m thankful for. This routine sets me up nicely for meditation and even sleep at night. It’s not an addition to my day, it’s a part of my day.Make #meditation a part of how you do ordinary things. Click To Tweet
Meditation is a tool for taking care of ourselves. What – myth or reality – is preventing you from trying it?
Image by Khadeeja Yasser, Unsplash