Debunking Meditation Myths - Part One
Over my years of teaching meditation classes I have often come across ideas that people have about meditation that put them off from trying it. I thought it was time to cast a light onto some of these beliefs that can prevent us from experiencing the many benefits of this practice.
As I was writing I realised that this is a pretty big topic. There seem to be many ideas around about meditation that can be a hindrance so I decided to focus first on some of the more practical issues. So read on to discover more about seven myths about practical aspects of meditation that I am very happy to debunk! Look out for part two coming soon
In no particular order:
1. You have to sit cross-legged on the floor or in the lotus position
I always encourage people when meditating to first be comfortable. If, for you, this means sitting on a chair that is absolutely fine. There is certainly no need to obtain a posture that would feel like contortion for any but the most dedicated yogi. It can help us to remain more alert if we are sitting, with our spine upright, rather than lying down though. We are also more likely to fall asleep if we lay down to meditate, which whilst potentially beneficial isn’t really the purpose of meditation.
2. You have to sit totally still
In fact you don’t need to sit at all. Some types of meditation can be done whilst standing, walking or moving the body in some way. If you are choosing to sit I would repeat again: first be comfortable. With this in mind I encourage you to attend to your body’s needs. If you get an itch: scratch, if you get pins and needles or cramp: move, if you get a tickle in your throat: cough. If we do not attend to our body in this way, firstly we aren’t looking after ourselves as we could be but it also then usually becomes very hard to concentrate on anything else. This can result in a meditation session that feels more like a trial or endurance, not something that we can come to enjoy. With practice you may find that some more minor sensations do become simply a passing sensation that you can notice and then forget about, but if your body has a need; respond to it with kindness.
3. You have to meditate every day or for a set period of time
There are undoubtedly cumulative benefits to meditation and a more regular practice will help you to hone the skill. However, meditation can easily become something we add to a list of things we should do that we never get round to. Start with one or two days a week for just a few minutes. Perhaps try to attach it to the beginning or start of another activity to help you remember such as when you first get up or when you come in from work. You could build up to meditating more days than not and be sure not to give yourself a hard time if you miss a day, this will not encourage you to try again.
Any minutes, however few, spent meditating are better than none. Simply taking three slow deep breaths and feeling your feet on the floor can be beneficial. This will likely take less than a minute but is a great way to start and even that short moment will leave you feeling calmer than you were before.
4. You need a completely quiet environment to meditate successfully
It can certainly be easier and more pleasant if we do have a quiet and uninterrupted place to meditate. The reality for many of us, though, is that we would never do any at all if this was essential. The more you practice the better you will get at tuning out those distractions. If outside noises are proving hard to ignore you might find listening to a guided meditation or playing some relaxing music through headphones helps.
5. You have to close your eyes to meditate
Lots of people do find it easier to focus if they close their eyes when they meditate but this is not essential. If you are doing more of a mindful practice, whilst walking for example, you will definitely need to keep your eyes open! If you are sitting still and prefer not to close your eyes it can be helpful to find a fixed spot in front of you to gently gaze at. This helps us to minimise being distracted by what is in the environment around us.
6. You have to meditate in the morning or at the same time every day
For some, establishing a regular meditation routine is helpful. For others this would mean they would never get round to it. Some of us are morning people and some night owls and this, along with our lifestyle, can have an impact on when a good time might be. Find what works for you, there is no ‘correct’ time.
7. Busy people can’t meditate
Of course, like anything else, being busy can make it harder for us to fit an activity, especially if it’s new, into our lives. This doesn’t need to be an impediment to developing a practice that works for you. You may even find that if you can set aside just a few minutes for meditation that your busy day suddenly seems more manageable. It is amazing how this can work but it can help us find a little more order in the chaos.
I hope you have found reading about these ‘Myths of Meditation’ useful. Above all, find a time and way to meditate that works for you. Do your best to bring openness to your practice and let go of judgements and expectations about getting it right. Try to be patient with your meditation journey. It takes time and practice to get the hang of it and to start to feel the benefits. Keep it light, fun and enjoyable: it may be something you come to spend many hours doing each year.
Dr Karen Janes, October 2019 ©